Audio of Edwards getting folksy with the editorial board

Going back to the point that Aaron raised about the context in which John Edwards got all folksy with us by showing off his boots back in 2004: I can now add some perspective to both his memory and mine — that is, if hearing is believing.

First, let me share with you a passage that I wrote in the very first draft of the piece, a version I KNEW was too long. (The "Director’s Cut" version was one I thought would fit, until Cindi Scoppe told me it was 32 inches, of which I cut six for the print version.) It went like this:

… And we’re talking impressions and memories here. None of these events or observations struck me as anything worth noting in detail at the time, so my notes are sparse. But over time, without my intending it, an impression is formed. Human nature, I guess. But even without all the notes and details, I know exactly how he caused me to think of him as I do…

I had tried to reconstruct as much as I could from notes and the data trail of stories and editorials from the time. I was on vacation, and it was Sunday, but I dragged by daughter and granddaughter to the office with me after Mass to get my notes from the 2004 presidential primaries. I even listened to the beginning of a recording of the endorsement interview with Edwards, but decided after a minute of listening that I must have turned on the recorder after the crack about the boots.

So I searched my notes. No direct quote. I asked Cindi Scoppe, and she said without looking that she didn’t have it. She takes better notes than I do, but she’s a serious journalist — she doesn’t bother with the frivolous remarks that I often think are revelatory of character.

So I went with my best memory of what he said: “How do y’all like my boots?” And Aaron offered his perspective. Today, I decided to listen further in the hope of finding something to add to the record — seeing as how there was so much interest in this column.

And guess what I found at one minute and seven seconds, right at the point at which I was trying to get everybody to settle down from the opening pleasantries and get serious (apparently, tomfoolery had gone on longer than I had recalled)? Yep, it was the actual audio of the "boots" remark, which went like this:

ME: "Well, welcome."

EDWARDS: "Thank you. Have you noticed my shoes?" (general laughter as he props one on the table) "These are my boots that I wear in New Hampshire ’cause you can clomp aroun’ in ‘at snow an’ mess (inaudible), but it don’t exactly fit in Sou’ Calahna."

So right away I noticed two things: One, my memory wasn’t exactly right on the precise words he spoke. That’s embarrassing. But I feel much reinforced in terms of my characterization of the way he said it, and the exaggerated folksiness of it — which, of course, was my point. It sounds even more like an impersonation of early Andy Griffith than I had remembered. And mind you, this was right after he had breezed by the regular folks down in the lobby without giving them the time of day.

There is no sign on my recording of Aaron prompting the remark, but Aaron could well have said something just before that my recorder did not pick up. I trust Aaron’s memory on that.

As for the rest, click on this and give it a listen. I’ll be interested to see how it struck you.

17 thoughts on “Audio of Edwards getting folksy with the editorial board

  1. SteveG

    As the old saying goes, when you’re in a hole, stop digging.
    You’ve already made yourself look like an idiot by trying to label Edwards a “phony” with not much of anything to back it up. You got called on it. Let it go. You are only making it worse.

  2. Doug Ross

    I don’t hear all the twang that your transcription attempts to portray… and I’m a Yankee transplant to South Carolina.
    I also hear a bunch of people laughing along, including a guy who sounds a lot like you following on to Edwards’ line with a joke of his own about the boots.
    Guess your “phony meter” didn’t register until afterwards? Maybe after Edwards (to use a Southern phrase) “opened a can of whoop-ass” on your beloved Joe Lieberman (45% to 2% in the primary)??
    Disclosure: I voted for Edwards in the primary in 2004, mainly influenced after reading his book, “Four Trials”. He’s a smart guy. A self made millionaire. A devoted family man who has gone through trials of his own.

  3. Doug Ross

    And regarding Aaron’s recollection… you still need the readers to presume that Edwards would have mentioned the boots regardless. Otherwise, 1/3 of your case on which base your “big phony” claim disappears.

  4. Scott

    Gosh, get over it. Sounds like he’s just trying to be casual and break the ice with everybody. So maybe some of it is an act. How genuine do you want your politicians to be? Should they invite you home for dinner and add you to their Christmas cards list? What’s important is his platform, as well as his voting record. And, if we’re just hung up on his personality, at least he’s not a rude jerk.
    By the way, George Bush seems to be pretty genuine, on a personal level, and can work a room with a disarming level of sincerity. And what good has that done us?

  5. steve

    LOL what I think is funny is that anyone, ANYONE would vote for that sheister, he reminds me of a used car salesman or a tele vangelist

  6. David Phillips

    As if we needed something more than the $1200 haircut Edwards needed before charging out to pander to both Americas or the $55,000 fee to speak at a poverty conference to convince us that he is the most artful phony in the country.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Doug, that’s not me you hear when you describe “a guy who sounds a lot like you following on to Edwards’ line with a joke of his own about the boots.” I’m pretty sure that’s Mike Fitts with the first crack (“what are you intending to wade through here in South Carolina”), followed by Lee Bandy saying, “… a lot of it here.”
    This isn’t a major point — just as the precise words the candidate pronounced as he propped his foot on the table were not a major point. I just feel compelled to correct misunderstandings of fact.
    It well COULD have been me, and if you had sat through a thousand editorial board meetings with me, you would be justified in asserting that I am the one MOST likely to keep the joke going, to play as long as possible before getting down to business. Ask Cindi Scoppe; that propensity of mine is her bane, as she sits professionally with her list of well-crafted questions. It just wasn’t the case this time. That’s me with the “Well, welcome,” and after the joking (and I probably WAS laughing along; I don’t remember), and then me again asking him how things are going, to which he settles down and says, “Very well.”
    And David — wasn’t it just a $400 haircut? Or am I confusing that with another silly “scandal?”

  8. Dave Beckwith

    Sir, I’ve heard you speak, and frankly you have the ugliest voice I’ve ever heard. And while John Edwards speaks in healing tones, dropping the “g” as is polite, and such…you, my dear fellow, speak in corrosive tones. You even write in corrosive tones. And I would think that a person with ties to Habitat for Humanity, if authentic, would have the good sense to see that what Senator Edwards represents is more in keeping with the tenets of Habitat, than the actor’s guild — as would be the case with a Fred Thompson, and earlier, Ronald Reagan.
    OK…so I’ve never qactually heard you speak. Still I think you can see how superficial it is to make such claims against Edwards.
    For once in our history, Carolinians whould treat our own with hospitality (as we do visitors) rather than strive to be in the vanguard of self-detractors. As a North Carolinian, I am proud to call Edwards a son of my state. But he was actually born in your state. Can not a few of our Carolinians to the south also show a little pride in having such a champion for decency?
    Otherwise, we may be related to having Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond as permanent reminders of the throwback South of slavery and intolerance. The Carolinas are thriving because of our progressive spirit. We are no Mississippi. We are the future. Time to start acting like it. Having a president in the White House is a good thing, and will bring good fortune to our states.
    I hope you at least consider these thoughts…

  9. John Burns

    I don’t hear any fakery at all. Sounds like a guy trying to keep talking while lifting his legs off the table. He said South Carolina. I didn’t hear “SOU’ CALAHNA.”
    What kind of reporting do you do on a daily basis if this is the best you can do with an actual audio tape of the conversation to listen to.

  10. Brad Warthen

    That’s what I heard. If it didn’t sound that way to me, would I have offered it to you to listen to?
    For my part, I don’t hear it exactly the same every time. The quality is poor, and I have to strain so to catch words, that it’s not surprising people would hear it differently. Perhaps you and I are each projecting our expectations upon the vacuum provided by the fuzziness of the playback.
    Last time I listened to it, I thought maybe he said “tromp” instead of “clomp” (as quoted above). But I’m not entirely sure. I just do the best my ears will allow me to do.
    And of course, that’s all the column that started all this was — the impression I formed through my eyes and ears. I had my impression, Zeke Stokes had another, Bob Coble has yet another that you’re likely to see in an op-ed piece over the next couple of days. To each his own impression. They’re smart people, so I’m glad to hear what they have to say.

  11. bud

    Brad, I listened to this 4 times now. What exactly are you trying to suggest? Exaggerated folksiness??? What the hell does that mean? There just is absolutely nothing here. It’s just a bit of idle chit-chat at the beginning of an interview. I don’t know what your motivation is and don’t care but you need to drop this whole nonsense before you embarass yourself any more.

  12. Ready to Hurl

    I’ve listened to the audio clip a couple of times.
    Do you really think that a lawyer who’s convinced juries to award millions and voters to elect him to the U.S. Senate would deliberately wear snow boots to your meeting just as a prop for chuckles?
    THIS is your example of “fake” bon homie?
    Wow, your case is even weaker than I realized previously.
    Was your sense of decorum offended when he put his boot on your conference table, or something?
    Really, I’m starting to wonder if you’re not grinding a personal ax with this hit piece. I especially find it telling that you’ve never found the opportunity to slam other pols whom you’ve met.
    Please direct me to your personal indictment of Gov. Sanford with anecdotes. surely, you’ve had as much chance to observe Sanford’s foibles as John Edwards.
    Or, do you judge the bike-riding Sanford, the Bush-hugging McCain, the family-values Guiliani, or the newly anti-abortion Romney more “authentic” than Edwards?

  13. Brad Warthen

    I’m beginning to see why we have so much trouble communicating around here.
    This was just a little souvenir I found from one of the anecdotes in my column, like the snapshot of Howard Dean. Just a way of helping to put you there. Just a way of going a hell of a lot farther to bring you into the interactions between journalist and subject than any scribe you’ve probably ever run into before. That’s OK, you don’t have to thank me; I wouldn’t know you if you weren’t griping.
    But I’m starting to think that the obtuseness I’ve seen on the parts of some folks as to what I was telling you in those anecdotes is willful. Nobody is this thick without it being on purpose.
    But let’s pretend you’re serious, and I’ll explain: The point of the anecdote was not the folksiness with us. It was the coldness with the ordinary folks he professes to care so much about. That’s when moment of revelation came.
    In the first anecdote, at the Russell House, it was the other way around, which should have been clear from the way I told it. Several folks have affected to believe I was criticizing the candidate for seeming detached when he was in the wings. No, people — as I said, that was normal human behavior. In this case, the thing that struck me, the think that was done to a degree that I had never seen before, despite very close exposure to politicians on and off stage for decades, was the sudden, flashing brilliance of the excited smile that he keeps in a jar by the door and can put on instantaneously.
    If you don’t get that, then you just don’t want to. Why on Earth do you go so far out of your way to misunderstand?


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