What if the National Enquirer threw a campaign sex scandal and no one came?
Usually, the mainstream press is happy to let tabloids do the dirty work so it can swoop in and fill in the blanks with on-the-record non-denial denials and explanations with just enough wiggle room for back-peddling down the road. That appeared to be how it would go down when the National Enquirer claimed John Edwards had an affair with campaign worker (and former Jay McInerney squeeze) Rielle Hunter. The notion of the candidate with the cancer-stricken wife getting his $400 haircuts mussed up by a woman who describes herself as "addicted to higher consciousness" has the makings of a dynamic and devastating primary season scandal.
What's more, the Enquirer says it has enough evidence to sink the campaign. Sources close to AMI tell Radar the tab is in possession of e-mails and phone records from Hunter to various acquaintances in which she details the affair and says she and John are in love with one another.
There's just one problem: nobody wants to believe the story. Call it a swift boat backlash.
The mainstream media hasn't seen fit to dignify the item with much coverage (Ann Coulter doesn't count). When writer Sam Stein dared deface liberal oasis Huffington Post last week with questions about payments from the Edwards camp to Hunter's video production company, the rest of the prog-bloggers piled on him.
Edwards himself calls the story "just false" and Hunter says, "When working for the Edwards camp, my conduct as well as the conduct of my entire team was completely professional" (Mickey Kaus notes that the odd preface leaves flexibility for both parties regarding their conduct before and after she was on staff). Privately, however, at least one former Edwards staffer labels Hunter a "crazy lady," and admits being unsure what her role was with the campaign.
The refusal to push the affair story is the latest example of what one rival strategist dubbed "the Teflon campaign" of the former North Carolina senator. Remember last fall when an intern called a North Carolina Wal-Mart and asked a clerk to set aside a Playstation 3 for Edwards, even though Edwards is critical of the company's labor practices? Remember the revelation that two Edwards campaign bloggers authored anti-Catholic posts on their personal blogs? No, right? How about when Rolling Stone opened a profile on Edwards last August with: "If he weren't so rich, handsome, and well married, you might feel a little sorry for John Edwards."