The Media 's Reaction to the John Edwards Verdict
Driving home from work, all I had for information on the reaction to the John Edwards' verdict was Sirius. Against my better judgment, I put up with the incessant commercials for debt and income tax relief. I was sorry I did.
On MSNBC, I thought the comments of Chris Matthews and his guests, including the authors of the Game Change, on John Edwards' post-verdict press statement, were appalling.
Matthews and his panel all agreed John Edwards was a delusional egomaniac with no particular political or social insight beneath the surface. One criticized his reading ability. One even called him a psychopath.
What was the basis for these attacks? According to Matthews & panel, Edwards had the audacity to suggest during his post-verdict press conference (you can view it here) that he might still have a political future. Matthews then aired his statements. I didn't hear Edwards say a word about re-entering politics. He talked about wanting to help children in poverty -- he may have been referring to a future public presence, but that's not even close to suggesting another run for political office. [More..]
While his "two Americas" platform was part of his presidential campaign, it also existed apart from it. It was the basis for his foundations. Bunny Mellon gave millions to his poverty-fighting foundations, donations that had nothing to do with his running for office.
Why is it delusional for him to think one day in the future he can return to this work? His remarks may signal his belief he can again be a force in the public arena, but he said absolutely zero to indicate he thought he had a political future, or that he would want one.
There was no delusion, no pathology, no egomania. There was a statement that he hoped to return to the cause for which he has always been the most passionate -- reducing poverty, particularly for children.
Would it have been better for him to say he intends to return to trial practice so he can get big judgments and recoup the millions he spent defending against the charges in this case? Should he have said despite the acquittal and hung jury, his life is worthless, he is going to go crawl under a rock?
I bet at least one person cheered when hearing what he did say: Bunny Mellon. And I'd bet she'd give money to his poverty foundations in the future. Were his comments directed at her? Maybe, but there's nothing psychopathic, delusional or ego-maniacal about them even if they were. And why would anyone complain that a private citizen with as much money as Ms. Mellon wants to give millions to help those less fortunate? Would it be preferable if she bought private islands for her heirs to vacation on?
Next Matthews & Co. trashed-- and I mean trashed -- Edwards for saying he loved and was close to Quinn, the child he fathered with Rielle Hunter. He also said he loved all his children, but to this group, that was an afterthought.
What's wrong with saying this? The child may be 4 years old now, but one day she will be old enough to read about this trial. She will learn that the Government presented evidence that her father denied being her father and tried to hide the fact. At least now she can also read that on the day the trial ended, he said he was wrong to do that and told the whole world he loves her and how important she is to his life.
America has pilloried and taken more pounds of flesh from John Edwards and the memory of Elizabeth during this trial than I can recall it extracting from any other public figure in recent memory.
Instead of crucifying John Edwards, who clearly was the victor in his fight with the Government, why isn't the media castigating the Government for bringing the case in the first place and relying on witnesses like Andrew Young, who are getting a pass for their own misdeeds? Why isn't it raising more questions about why charges were brought in the first place? And why these particular charges?
In one of Edwards' unsuccessful pretrial motions to dismiss the Indictment -- the one based on prosecutorial vindictiveness which I detailed at length here, his lawyers quoted a statement made in 1940 by then U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson. (The Federal Prosecutor: An Address by Robert H. Jackson, 24 J. Am. Jud. Soc'y 18 (1940).)
The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous. He can have citizens investigated and, if he is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public statements and veiled or unveiled intimations…. Law enforcement is not automatic. It isn't blind. One of the greatest difficulties of the position of prosecutor is that he must pick his cases, because no prosecutor can even investigate all of the cases in which he receives complaints….
If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his cases, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted. With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him.
It is in this realm -- in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious to or in the way of the prosecutor himself.
That's one message the media should be driving home about this woeful, ill-conceived, prosecution.
Listening to the media today, they all gave no more than lip service to their belief this was an ill-founded prosecution, as if that was a given and didn't need to be further addressed. Apparently, it paled in comparison to the importance of trashing John Edwards some more. I can only imagine what they would have said if Edwards had been found guilty of even one count. As I wrote here,
When this trial is over, if Edwards is convicted, millions will believe the real reason he is being sent to the gallows has nothing to do with campaign contributions and everything to do with his having a child out of wedlock with a woman his friends and staffers found "kooky," while his demanding and unhappy wife was dying of cancer.
Or, they may believe that he's being punished for what in the eyes of the Government is apparently an even greater sin -- he had the gall to take the case to trial instead of kow-towing to the Government's demand he lie down and plead guilty to something he had no reason to believe he was guilty of.
Only if the trial is fair, can the public trust in the integrity of an ensuing guilty verdict. I don't see how anyone (other than a prosecutor or Republican) will have faith in the integrity of a guilty verdict in this case, should that occur.
If John Edwards is convicted, saying he'll win on appeal is little consolation. His life, already a mockery by the public shaming he was subjected to in this trial, will have been devastated.
When you break the law, the Government has the right to punish you. It does not have the right to destroy you. And if you are found not guilty, the Government should be obligated to help you restore your life.
John Edwards was not found guilty. Instead of recognizing this with anything more than a prefatory comment, the media that I heard was acting like a grand jury, making up a new crime based on its unsupported interpretation of his public comments. His new crime is egomania, delusion, and psychopathy. It's like a new chapter in Alice in Wonderland where instead of saying "Sentence first, Verdict Afterward" the Queen says, "Sentence anyway, Guilty Verdict or Not."
Also remarkable: Not one show I listened to praised or expressed admiration for the work of Edwards' lead attorney Abbe Lowell and the rest of the defense team. Do they think this verdict fell out the sky and could have been achieved by anyone?
As I pulled into my garage and turned Sirus off, my last thought was that as between listening to the cable news shows and the debt relief commercials, the commercials were better. And they didn't raise my blood pressure.
Congratulations to Abbe Lowell and the rest of the defense team, and a word to everyone else: John Edwards is as entitled to breathe on this planet as you are. He can express his love and gratitude to his children and parents. He can express his hope to make a contribution to society in the future. He isn't a leper. He had an affair which produced a child -- a child he is providing for financially while trying to be part of her life in other ways. As Abbe Lowell said in closing:
[I]f what John did is a federal crime, let alone six felonies, then we better build a lot more courtrooms, hire a lot more prosecutors and build a lot more jails, because the government will always be able to find a way to turn an affair into a crime.
Guilt sells in the American media, even when the verdict is not guilty or the jury can't agree. The meaning of a "hung jury" has become lost in translation-- to the media it now means "hang him anyway."
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