Correction to This Article
A Media Notes item in the April 2 Style section misstated the circumstances under which 71 employees left the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is under new ownership. The employees were laid off; they did not take early retirement.

The Story You Can't And Can Put Down

Elizabeth Edwards:
Elizabeth Edwards: "I can't turn on the TV without seeing me." (By John Quinn -- Bloomberg News)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 2, 2007

It is a story that husbands and wives keep arguing about, that has mesmerized people who don't give a fig about politics, that stirs the passions of anyone who has ever been touched by cancer -- which is to say, just about everyone.

In the 11 days since John and Elizabeth Edwards told the world they would continue with his presidential campaign despite her diagnosis of incurable cancer, the former senator has drawn far more media attention than in the months when he struggled for visibility against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Some pundits are questioning whether John Edwards is so consumed by ambition that he is unable to put his wife and young children first. Others are cheering Elizabeth Edwards for her determination not to abandon their cause, and praising the way the couple have handled their medical crisis.

It is the latest reminder, if any were needed, that running for president (and first lady) is above all an intensely personal experience. Edwards never got on "60 Minutes" by talking about his plan to raise taxes to pay for national health insurance, and he never got a People magazine spread by apologizing for his vote to authorize the Iraq war. In fact, when Edwards announced his candidacy in December, he drew modest coverage, with most major newspapers running inside stories (The Washington Post was one exception), and CBS and ABC briefly mentioning the announcement on their evening newscasts.

A presidential candidate whose wife faced the possibility of an early death would be a compelling story in any era. But at this early stage of the 2008 race, the media have been unusually focused on marriages.

The Bill-and-Hillary union may be the most scrutinized of modern times, and there has been plenty of chatter this time about what role the former president will play in her campaign and, potentially, as First Spouse. ("Big question for Hillary: What will Bill's impact be?" USA Today asked last week.) This saga began 15 years ago, when the little-known Arkansas governor appeared on "60 Minutes," with his wife, to deny Gennifer Flowers's allegations of an affair, and intensified during the Monica Lewinsky debacle. Nothing the New York senator says or does will ever be as fascinating to journalists as her marital situation.

Rudy Giuliani has drawn copious coverage over his three marriages, especially since the New York Times quoted his 21-year-old son, Andrew, as saying that he had been estranged from his father and had problems with the ex-mayor's new wife, Judith. The New York tabloids and some cable shows went wild last month when Judith Giuliani revealed that she had a previously undisclosed former husband, making Rudy her third.

But nothing has touched an exposed nerve like the Edwards cancer debate. And although many journalists are sympathetic -- or at least respect the couple's right to choose their preferred path -- others have slammed the candidate.

"Ambition has blinded his judgment and Elizabeth's, too," writes New York Daily News columnist Jane Ridley.

"The decision is shortsighted and unrealistic," writes Philadelphia Daily News columnist Jill Porter, and "his priorities are out of whack."

Even Howard Stern got into the act, saying: "They got two kids. Go home. Be with the children. She needs to conserve her energy. It's a ridiculous thing." But Stern's sidekick, Robin Quivers, countered: "I don't think you have a right to tell this man how to run his life."

Some critics are dumping on Katie Couric's "60 Minutes" interview with the Edwardses, in which she said: "Some say what you're doing is courageous. Others say it's callous. Some say, 'Isn't it wonderful they care for something greater than themselves.' And others say it's a case of insatiable ambition." The sniping is hard to understand, because Couric, who lost her husband to cancer nine years ago, handled the interview with considerable empathy, and the couple have said it was fair.


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