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Controversy over National Enquirer Pulitzer nomination

By Matthew Price
BBC News, New York

The most famous US tabloid is up for the country's top journalism award, for its coverage of a presidential candidate's extra-marital affair. But would it be a worthy winner?

It is now more than two and a half years since that September afternoon when Rick Egusquiza picked up the phone.

John Edwards
Edwards denied all until the Enquirer published pictures of him with the child

The journalist and former bartender at Venice Beach listened as the voice on the other end gave him information that would eventually lead to the downfall of a popular, charismatic former US senator who was running for President.

Now, Mr Egusquiza and the publication he works for, the National Enquirer, is waiting for another phone call - one which will tell them whether they've won the most prestigious award in US journalism, the Pulitzer prize.

Just the thought of it has left much of the media establishment here gasping for breath.

"If you worked hard and paid your dues to get into the 'white shoe' media establishment, it's going to seem like an injustice to see the Enquirer get journalism's highest honour," says Jeff Bercovici, the media columnist for DailyFinance.com.

Not that he thinks it will win.

'Exclusive after exclusive'

The Enquirer is up for two Pulitzer Prizes.

Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler replied to a BBC e-mail request with a quick, "No interviews until 3pm Monday when we announce awards. Sorry."

John Edwards said… 'That's tabloid trash don't believe it,' - and they believed him over us
Rick Egusquiza
Enquirer reporter

The awards' website says prizes will be given for "material coming from a text-based United States newspaper" that "adheres to the highest journalistic principles".

Many do not believe the National Enquirer fits that category.

It may have had several serious journalistic scoops in its lifetime, but much of its coverage involves Hollywood-style tittle-tattle.

It's a tabloid, practising the worst - many say - of chequebook journalism (paying sources for their stories).

So it surely bruises the country's media elite that this upstart gutter rag, as they might see it, beat the supposed best of US publications on one of the biggest political scoops of recent years.

Not only that - they ignored the story while the Enquirer delivered exclusive after exclusive.

A month after the tip-off, the paper ran its first story about how John Edwards - the former North Carolina senator, the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 2004, and candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004 and 2008 - was having an affair.

No-one else picked up on it.

The fact is they didn't do it in time to have any actual impact on the presidential race
Jeff Bercovici, DailyFinance.com

"John Edwards said… 'That's tabloid trash don't believe it.' And they believed him over us," Rick Egusquiza remembers.

Two months later the Enquirer followed up with another exclusive: "John Edwards Love Child Scandal."

Still no traction in the rest of the media.

Mr Edwards' ended his presidential bid soon after, but the Enquirer did not let up.

In July 2008, it reported that he'd visited the mother of that "love child".

When a month later it published photos of what it said was the politician holding the child, he went on TV to admit the affair.

DNA test

"The fact is they didn't do it in time to have any actual impact on the presidential race," says Jeff Bercovici.

Rielle Hunter in GQ magazine, with daughter Frances Quinn
Edwards met Rielle Hunter during the campaign, and hired her to film him

The Enquirer's two Pulitzer Prize nominations are for its reporting of the continuation of the story in 2009.

In that year it broke the story of how John Edwards had taken a DNA test which proved he was the father of the child.

It also was the first to disclose that a grand jury was investigating whether funds for Mr Edwards' election campaign in 2008 were improperly used - his mistress was on his campaign payroll.

Barry Levine, The National Enquirer's executive editor, says the case for their nomination is clear.

"The man was running for the highest office in the land. He had a wife who was campaigning for him who was battling cancer.

"He was carrying on an affair behind her back with a former campaign worker who had become pregnant with his child," he says.

It would be a slam dunk if this was by the New York Times
Emily Miller, public affairs consultant

"Our investigation, despite his string of denials, has led to a federal grand jury investigation to determine whether or not he used campaign funds to cover up his affair."

The stories "that are up for submission for this award were done without chequebook journalism - the sources were not paid," says Mr Levine.

Still, that may not be enough to satisfy the judges.

Critics of the nomination argue that both in terms of the story's timing and its impact it does not deserve to win.

Yet Emily Miller, a public affairs consultant in Washington DC who has been pushing for the Enquirer to be considered, believes the time for the Pulitzer judges to acknowledge different media outlets has arrived.

"With the layoffs, with the newspapers closing down, where stories have been broken is the smaller outlets, is the local papers, websites and blogs, and the National Enquirer and places like that," she says.

"It would be a slam dunk if this was by the New York Times."



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SEE ALSO
John Edwards: Notes on a scandal
21 Jan 10 |  Americas
John and Elizabeth Edwards split
28 Jan 10 |  Americas
Edwards admits campaign lovechild
21 Jan 10 |  Americas
Ex-senator Edwards admits affair
09 Aug 08 |  Americas
Edwards abandons White House race
30 Jan 08 |  Americas

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The Independent Online sites win journalism firsts at Pulitzers - 5 hrs ago
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Washington Times MILLER: National Enquirer snubbed by snobs - 14 hrs ago
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