By Mary Sanchez
Tribune Media Services
It's a pity to say, but the reporters who worked on one of the most explosive journalistic investigations this year don't have a ghost of a chance for recognition by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Why? Because they work for the National Enquirer.
Pigs will fly before the Enquirer is ever considered for journalism's most coveted prize. The paper may have exposed the shockingly unpresidential ethics and judgment of a major presidential contender, but the high priests of the profession will never consider it to be more than a tawdry supermarket scandal sheet.
A debate has been waged for months among journalists about the merits of the Enquirer's expose of John Edwards and his love child. Some have touted the tabloid's pit-bull aggressiveness in chasing down evidence of the candidate's dalliances and his subsequent outright lies about the paternity of his mistress' daughter.
For other journalists, to even think of accepting the Enquirer as a candidate for a Pulitzer for investigative or national news reporting would be to grant it unearned status alongside mainstream, serious press. A press that is expected to abide by rules about paying sources, about using anonymous sources, about posing as anything but the press and a myriad of other ethical strictures long ignored by the Enquirer.
Nonetheless, I say let them in. Let me explain.
Beginning in 2007, the Enquirer doggedly followed a phoned-in tip and chased Edwards cheating tail as he elevated a gargantuan lie - to quote him: "I don't know who that baby is." That denial now takes its place alongside Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
The Enquirer broke with its past and reportedly did not pay its sources for the information. And it sank untold dollars into the story, assigning up to a dozen reporters. Bully for them.
Meanwhile, the political press corps didn't pay much mind - not, that is, until after Edwards' baby with Rielle Hunter was born and the tabloid had staked out a hotel to get photos of Edwards playing with the tot.
By that point, Edwards had dropped out of the presidential race. So, to a large extent, he was a moot political point.
Edwards now has a lot of explaining to do. He faces possible indictment by a grand jury looking into the possibility that he used campaign contributions to shield his moral indiscretions. If that happens, we can count on more serious coverage by mainstream media.
We can say with some certainty that the Enquirer will not be devoting its reportorial resources to stories about national security, our trillion-dollar deficit, the unfolding health care crisis or Iran's nuclear weapons. No, expect more "Best and Worst Beach Bodies."
Nor am I a proponent of snooping around candidates' bedroom windows. It should be clear by now that a man can be a good politician and a horrible husband and father. As more women gain access to the higher reaches of politics, no doubt we'll learn that a woman can be a good politician and also a horrible wife and mother.
But before we write off the service the Enquirer has done for the public with its pursuit of the Edwards story, let's pause to consider what might have happened had he won the Democratic nomination. What if the scandal broke wide open after the party's convention selected him to run against John McCain? What if the love child were revealed after he was elected president?
Part of the utter gall of Edwards' behavior is that he felt he could father a child out of wedlock (BEGIN ITALICS) and (END ITALICS) lead the nation.
I'm not saying the Enquirer deserves to win a Pulitzer - there are certainly more deserving candidates. But would it kill the profession to congratulate the tabloid for committing journalism, even if it was despite its best (which is to say, its worst) instincts?
Who knows, a little respect shown to the Enquirer might even encourage the Sun and the Weekly World News to try their hand at real journalism too.
(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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This column was originally printed in the May 8, 2010 - May 22, 2010 edition.