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May 8, 2009

Scoring Off John And Elizabeth

edwards oprah.jpg

The key to understanding the latest hooha over the John Edwards-Elizabeth Edwards soap opera is to recognize that the photo above — published far-and-wide over the past few days — came from Harpo Productions. Besides referring to one of the world’s greatest comedians, that is also the name of Oprah’s production company.

Trumping any ugliness taking place between this political couple is the PR jujitsu currently being perpetrated on the public with Oprah scoring with a huge pseudo-news interview exploiting this miserable story and otherwise serious media organizations (1, 2) scoring by playing this exploitation off as news.

For my purposes, I’m specifically interested in how the scene in the photo — cleverly instigated, captured and distributed by Harpo — plays to the worst instincts, taking advantage of a.) the Edwards daughter, b.) the inflammatory allegation (true or not) that Edwards fathered a child with his mistress, and c.) the anger-baiting hook of the cheating husband as dirt (even if he is).

First of all, how sad the Edwards daughter need be drawn into this, in an interview specifically exploiting the war between her parents and her father’s affair. Second, how interesting Harpo — milking the most salacious angle of the story — showcased a photo of Elizabeth pointing out her daughter, as if needing to identify her own child in contrast to any other John might be responsible for.

And finally, the composition is designed to stoke the highest gender flames, the way the women are huddled in a protective scrum away from the monster and forming a protective wall between child and philanderer. (Forget about the fact that it’s ratings-driven Oprah, smack in the middle there, currently separating the family.) And then, in the most tawdry move possible on Harpo’s part (because it’s a story about a guy who couldn’t keep it in his pants, after all), notice how, as much as bending forward, Oprah could be seen to be bending back in the most awkward alignment with our Casanova.

(image: AP Photo/Harpo Productions, Inc.)

  • acm

    can I just say that, if you hadn’t covered it here, I might very well have had no idea that there was any Edwards story in the news at all. so it can’t be quite the scrum that you imply…

  • mjfgates

    I suspect that the “latest Edwards hoo-ha” is the one described at . Not covered in any real news outlets, just… well. Ahh, tabloids, you gotta love ‘em. No, wait, you don’t.

  • Tena

    You know I might have let this whole thing go, but for the fact that John Edwards, after really putting the Democrats in jeopardy, let his wife go out and defend him in public and that to me just was the final disgusting straw that broke the camel’s back. When Elizabeth posted at DailyKos, begging us to forgive John, I was beyond outraged. Any man who has cheated on his wife and then allowed her to make his case for him in public is just a base coward and a cad and I cannot imagine any real man letting that happen.
    I never want to see John Edwards again. Ever. I’m sick of politicians who won’t keep their cocks in their pockets.

  • thomas

    Oprah sells almost exclusively women. I’m guessing that if the family is wanting to regain any national political footing they will have the most work to do with female audiences and voters first (and Tena’s comment eplains why).

  • thomas

    …exclusively TO women, that is. Sorry.

  • Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    In the post (see links 1 and 2 — to NYT and WAPO), I mention that serious media organizations ran the story with the photo so it clearly extends beyond the tabloids. What I might not have emphasized enough is how much the PR machine in the country (pushing books, TV shows, movies; promoting, constructing and reconstructing political personalities) dictates what we see and consume, often regardless of anything reasoned.

  • vmh

    What I thought was interesting about the picture, is the family history, both personal and public, represented by all the photos, looking down/in on their family. So many pictures. Those photos are us, doing the same thing.

  • Stella

    I’m so sorry that Elizabeth’s husband treated her like dirt. So did mine, anybody want to buy my book about it?
    It’s not fair to blame Oprah for the exploitation of their child – Harpo just accepted the ratings gift that the Edwards’ offered.
    Those who profit from fame need to be very careful.

  • Tena

    anybody want to buy my book about it?
    I feel that.
    I have no interest and I’m sorry she decided to bring all this back out into the public light again. I really hate like hell to say this because it sounds so very close to: “Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!” to me, but I long for the days when there was a little privacy left and people had some dignity and didn’t trot all their sordid family problems out in public.
    I realize that the Edwards didn’t intend for this to become public. But the fact that it did become known in spite of them does not, in my view, make it any less vulgar to have her bring it all up again and tell us how she vomited. I mean, I really didn’t need or want to know that. Why do people like this feel this need to reveal all of these things?

  • Susan S

    My comments:
    “Harpo” is “Oprah” spelled backwards. It looks to me like Elizabeth is pointing to something on her daughter’s head (maybe a tiara that was part of her costume).
    What’s surprising to me is that John Edwards was within a hundred miles of the taping of the show, let alone the photo shoot surrounding it.
    What doesn’t surprise me is that Elizabeth wrote a book about her husband’s affair. Not many people have had to face the adversity she’s had to face in her life, and if this is the way she thinks is the best way to deal with it, then so be it. I’m not going to judge her.

  • Serr8d

    the inflammatory allegation (true or not) that Edwards fathered a child with his mistressTrue or not, eh? A Hero of the Progressive Collective who must be defended at all costs?
    The evidence is pretty overwhelming. The story was out and lurking (but ignored by the Progressive Media) until they were forced to cover it because it was broken by a tabloid, in a huge way. I think the real story is the Progressive Media’s failure (and their miserable state of continued failures) to cover the story long before it hit. Progg Media certainly sniffed around Jeri Thompson, now didn’t they?
    If that tabloid hadn’t chased JE out of a hotel at 3 in the morning, then he might very well be your VP, instead of Mr. Potatohead Gaffe-a-Matic Joe Biden. So, there’s that to factor in.

  • dada

    What I notice is just how hideous that room is.

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