A dialogue on the Edwards flap

After spending a good bit of time in e-conversation with this reader, I thought I might as well share it with the rest of y’all. This is the message that started it:

From: Amy Holleman
Sent: Tuesday, August 14, 2007 9:35 AM
To: Warthen, Brad – External Email
Subject: Edwards and other Candidates

Mr. Warthen,

I continue to disagree with your claim that John Edwards is a phony and just love (note sarcasm) the way you used editorial space to toot your own horn and describe all of the attention you got.  Your editorial response to the responses you got make me wonder who the real phony is here.  While we’re all happy you got a good ego stroke, I hope you have not somehow damaged the reputation of a man who seems to really care.

At any rate, it is not my intention nor desire to figure out how genuine you may or may not be.  I can tell you though, as a person who has "bird-dogged" candidates since I was in high school (I’m in my 30’s now) on various issues, Edwards seems to me to be one of the most genuine politicians I’ve encountered over the last 15 years on the face-to-face level.  I cannot say that I’ve found any other candidate in any party this particular go-round who, face-to-face, seems so genuinely concerned with the problems that the majority of Americans face.  I cannot say that I’ve spoken to any other candidate about issues, such as AIDS, who seems to really care. 

Do I think politicians in general are phonies?  You bet I do.  Politicians, or the majority of them, do not seem to be in "the game" to make the country or world better anymore but for their own power gains.  Am I saying John Edwards is the perfect candidate?  Not at all.  No one’s perfect.  Am I saying that I believe you need to give John Edwards another look?  Not really, your opinion seems to be quite strong and one that probably will not change.  I’ll tell you one thing though, while I would never stifle another’s right to say what he or she wants as I believe strongly in our Constitutional rights, I believe the media hurts the American public more than anyone when it comes to elections.  Where people get off thinking it is OK to tell people how to think, I’ll never know.  The media, especially outlets such as The State and Fox News seem to completely disregard concepts like informing the public in an unbiased manner.

Amy Holleman

To which I replied:

Well, I don’t — think most politicians are phonies. And my somewhat more positive assessment is based on having observed these folks professionally for 30-something years. I’m afraid that my impression of Mr. Edwards is that he is a bit of a standout on this point. Do you believe, for instance, that Barack Obama is a phony? I don’t.

Meanwhile, I agree with you that "the media hurts the American public more than anyone when it comes to elections" — or at least, just as much as. Mostly, they hurt it by shaping everyone’s political vocabulary so that most folks find it difficult to engage anything like my column for what it was — they try to force it into their narrow little polarized boxes, and that makes it into something else entirely, and THAT is what caused all the hullabaloo last week.

I have a great deal of distaste for the way media cover politics in general. And I don’t hold out a lot of hope for it getting better.

Ms. Holleman replied today:

I think the hullabaloo last week was seeing an editorial writer for the only newspaper we have around these parts (the corporate trash that is has become at that) take a candidate that people overall see as sincere.  I can admit to being a fairly liberal democrat (and don’t try to hide it by saying things like "I’m not liberal; I’m progressive"), but I’ve even got a few Republican, Libertarian, and independent-minded friends that were turned off by your column.  These friends are all quite intelligent and do not need the media to tell them what to think; the majority do not read The State but read the article because someone sent it to them.

I do not think the Barack Obama is a phony.  I think Hillary Clinton is, but if it comes down to it, she will have my vote.  I think that McCain, Romney, and Giuliani are all phonies.  I do not think that Brownback, Paul, and Huckabee are phonies, but I’d never vote for them regardless.  I think our current "president’ is the biggest phony out there.  I think that many who are most sincere about making our country and world better, many with the most passion for politics and the like, do not ever get a chance to be seen or heard because money rules the game and the people with the most of it often do not even know how to be genuine anymore.

I’ll tell you one thing though, even though I whole-heartedly disagree with the words you wrote, I do thank you for initiating the discussion.  I’ve heard people defending Edwards whom I never thought would defend him, and I’ve seen people who are big supporters question their support.  It is always good to question ourselves and why we feel the way we do about things, especially something so important as the presidential race.  The next POTUS, no matter who he or she may be or which party he or she is affiliated, will have a big job to do that will involve a whole lot of trying to mend this great land of ours and the ties we have outside of our borders.  W. and his puppet master, Cheney, have created a holy mess.

And, a few minutes ago, I sent this final rejoinder:

Well, I’m glad you could thank me for one thing. That’s some consolation. But I think you have a broader definition of "phony" than I do, since you can apply it to Sens. Clinton and McCain, Gov. Romney and Mayor Giuliani. I find it hard to understand why you could cast your net that widely, yet still miss Sen. Edwards — who still seems to me the likeliest fish in that sea.

I would not label any of those as "phony," with the possible exception of Romney — but I still haven’t been exposed to him enough to know. In fact, I haven’t met him yet. And among all the Republicans, McCain is the least phony — just as I think Obama is the least phony among Democrats.

Then there’s Joe Biden, the master of "blarney" — which is a different thing.

I realize that "phony" sounds like a broad label, easily applied. But I did not apply it broadly or lightly. Nor am I alone in applying it to him. Quite a few South Carolina Democrats, including some statewide party leaders, see him the same way. They’ll just never say so on the record, which sort of leaves me with nothing more than my own personal observations to back up the assertion — that’s enough for me, but obviously not for you or quite a few other people, which is why I’ve made a couple of (unsuccessful) stabs this week to get some of those folks to come out of the shadows and be honest about what they think. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in it for them. But their private opinions expressed to me provide me with far more certainty of my assessment than I needed to write what I did.

You should know that I don’t have to go looking for such affirmation from these anonymous folk; it finds me regularly. I had lunch yesterday with Teresa Wells from the Edwards campaign, and while I was waiting for her to arrive, someone who was the Democratic nominee for a statewide office in 2004 told me that he agreed completely with my assessment. But he wasn’t around when Teresa arrived…

OK, now y’all jump in.

8 thoughts on “A dialogue on the Edwards flap

  1. Anonymoses Hyperlincoln

    FYI…The term “phony” came from a time in the early 20th century, and telephones were not as clear as they are today. So when people spoke in a way that sounded tinny, the way the old phones sounded, it was often the case that one would say that so-and-so sounded “phony”, meaning “telephony”…but alas that is another word.
    If John Edwards sounds phony to you, you may want to get better speakers for your TV or radio, or wherever you receive his catechisms. In person, in reality, John speaks in healing tones…the virtual opposite of this ‘phony” sound you are trying to promote.

  2. weldon VII

    The tempest in this teacup has steeped until the bag is about to burst.
    But finally the idea has surfaced that Edwards could benefit more than suffer from Brad’s broadside. At least his campaign got some attention.
    The old saying has it that any publicity, even bad, is good. I don’t think that’s what Brad had in mind when he wrote his column, but it will be interesting to see how it all works out.
    The State’s endorsement in the last presidential election killed a candidacy in just one day. This early anti-endorsement could do Edwards wonders.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Yep. And as long as it’s the thing that I keep hearing the most from OTHER people about, it will continue to be so.

    If you go to the main page of thestate.com, and scroll down to "MOST VIEWED STORIES," you’ll see that the newspaper version of my column is still THE most-viewed item on the newspaper site, 9 days after it ran. On the day it ran alone, there were 150,000 page views. With that many people looking at it, the discussion tends to continue.

    My writing reflect life as I encounter it. As long as I keep hearing about this subject from multiple directions, I’ll still refer to it. At some point it will be behind us. Join me in hoping that day will come soon.

  4. weldon VII

    Now that I have read the story Sharp recommended and one other Esquire piece about Edwards, I’m confident the pretty Democrat hammers better than Danny Glover.
    I’m also confident Esquire is a Democrat mouthpiece. The writer of one of the two Edwards stories called Republican candidate Mike Huckabee a “greasy Rotarian gasbag from Arkansas” and wrote that Ronald Reagan’s “primary combat experience was battling his way to the bar at the Brown Derby.”
    Thanks, Sharp, but I trust my eyesight and earshot more than writing with a tilt close to 90 degrees.

  5. David Pleasant

    Publishing the dialogue between you and Ms. Holleman was an appropriate effort to facilitate transparency, especially given your role as an editor. It allowed me to gain some insight into the obviously debatable degree of substance supporting your posit on Senator Edwards.
    In the same spirit of transparency, I should tell you I wrote the letter to the editor that was published Wednesday and titled, “Warthen should be open to all opinions.”
    Just to be clear, I am not addressing blogging here. The blogging world is different. I know, I do it daily.
    I could easily join Ms. Holleman’s side and debate your muckracking of John Edwards’ alleged personal flaws, however, I continue to see more troubling issues in this discourse than whatever flaws Sen. Edwards may or may not have.
    With all due respect, it is my opinion that the content, context, and most important of all, the basis and approach to your columns on Edwards are in stark contrast, if not damaging, to the principles and responsibilities of the press as they relate to the Constitution – the very instrument that defines and ultimately provides for your role as an editor of The State.
    First, you will easily influence the opinions and actions of many readers of your editorials because far too many unfortunately have the propensity to accept at face value the credibility and substance of your opining. I say this with no intentions of insulting neither your intelligence nor your capabilities, but because you are an editor of The State, if you say it is so, then for many it is so. It becomes fact for many in the public domain rather than opinion.
    We both know that’s not necessarily the intention or desired results; it is merely understanding and recognizing the world we live in. Regrettably, people make important decisions based on a single thirty-second television ad or a 750-word piece in a major periodical.
    If I made the proper nexus between your columns on Edwards and your exchange with Ms. Holleman, then it appears to me you did a substantial disservice to your readers.
    In your dialogue with Ms. Holleman you write: “Mostly, they hurt it by shaping everyone’s political vocabulary so that most folks find it difficult to engage anything like my column for what it was — they try to force it into their narrow little polarized boxes, and that makes it into something else entirely, and THAT is what caused all the hullabaloo last week.”
    Is that not exactly what you did in your columns? Based on the pseudo-facts (at best) presented in your column and substantiated by your dialogue with Ms. Holleman, you put Sen. Edwards in a narrow little polarized box.
    You told Ms. Holleman, “I think you have a broader definition of ‘phony’ than I do… I realize that ‘phony’ sounds like a broad label, easily applied. But I did not apply it broadly or lightly.”
    Well, I agree you did not apply it lightly, however, nowhere in your piece did you limit the scope or provide a variance to the definition of phony. There was zero ambiguity, absence of depth, or qualifiers when you blatantly called Sen. Edwards a phony in the August 7 piece.
    Nobody read Senator Edwards is a phony-lite or uber-phony.
    So, what is the truth? Did you misrepresent yourself in your editorial piece or did you make misstatements to Ms. Holleman? You can’t have it both ways.
    Okay, so you called Edwards a phony. For the purposes of this argument, what you called Edwards is not important other than the fact that it was derogative. What you base your allegations on are important.
    Please enlighten readers of The State as to where your journalistic standards reside in your allegations. Evidence of facts that may be buried in your blog are not applicable since they were not cited in your column. Furthermore, Grandma reading her home-delivered paper does not or should not have to know anything about your blog.
    You accuse Edwards of jogging when he was scheduled for a meeting, but your “statement of fact” appears to be based entirely on hearsay from a single source. Did you confirm it with other reliable sources or just rely on the single source downing his favorite beverage at the Cap City Club? Did you interview Edwards to get his response or did you decide the “facts” at hand were sufficient and appropriate for publication?
    I’m not going to debate the petty issues of grinning and alleged shuns by some colleague. They are not substantiative nor germane to my point.
    My concern is not so much about John Edwards as it is about the high standards and principled objectives too many in the press have dangerously abandoned.
    There are serious problems in what some may like to call our national conversation.
    We don’t have a national conversation.
    For all practical purposes it is one-way communications, and when that one-way communications is limited, unsubstantiated, or tainted the republic suffers great harm.
    Given the extremely polarized environment of today, it is absolutely paramount that the press positions itself to accommodate communication as the Founding Fathers outlined in the Constitution, not using the business model developed by Fox Entertainment to operate Fox “News.”

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