Editing another Edwards story

This week, The Daily Beast website unleashed an update on the saga of John Edwards, the disgraced North Carolina senator whose marriage and political fortunes evaporated amid an extramarital affair. Unfortunately, the reporting sheds little light and is, to quote George Costanza in “Seinfeld,” a story about nothing.

The Daily Beast is certainly not the first media outlet to publish a gossipy Edwards story based on anonymous sources, and it won’t be the last. Even The New York Times has fallen victim to that temptation.

Still, a discerning editor could have read a draft of this one and told the reporter, Diane Dimond, that she needed to go back out and do some more reporting. That’s what editors do, after all.

Even if the site decided to publish what she filed, some story editing is necessary. Here are some places to start regarding geography:

  • The story mentions that Edwards lives “around the Research Triangle of North Carolina.” To most of us who live here, it’s either the Triangle or Research Triangle Park. They aren’t the same thing.
  • The story says Edwards has moved out of his Chapel Hill mansion and lives in the “nearby Hillsborough neighborhood.” Hillsborough is a town, not a neighborhood, and one with a proud history.
  • The story says that Edwards’ scorned wife, Elizabeth, is considering a move to “the neighborhood known as Meadowmont, euphemistically called Wisteria Lane, where all the women are blond, perfect hostesses and drive late model Volvos.” I live here and have never heard the Meadowmont development referred to that way, and Google hasn’t either. As Stepford wives? Maybe. But not as “Desperate Housewives.”
  • The story asserts that John Edwards was drinking white wine and hitting on attractive women at either the Saratoga Grill or Sarasota Grill, but it can’t decide on the spelling. It’s probably the former.

There’s also the matter of the writing, which is frequently wretched in its excess. Here’s an example of that wordiness:

Among Hunter’s demands: That Young give up all profits from both his bestselling book, The Politician, and the movie adaptation — a deal represented by hotshot Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel and in partnership with acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin of No Country for Old Men fame.

“Hotshot” is sensationalist hyperbole, and “of [TV show/movie/book] fame” is a cliché. And that sentence is simply too long.

The National Enquirer famously used anonymous sources to expose Edwards’ affair and downfall. Is it possible that other, supposedly legitimate media are now willing to follow its lead of shady ethics and sensationalism to report on his travails? Let’s hope not.

Thanks to Fiona Morgan and others on Facebook for pointing out the story and its myriad problems.