There was a time when the idea of posting videos on the internet documenting your travels and work was a novel concept in politics. This was the age before Twitter. Before YouTube’s ubiquity. Before presidential campaigns took place online as much as they did over the airwaves.
And it really wasn’t that long ago. In the summer of 2006, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards turned heads when he commissioned a series of web-based documentary shorts for his leadership PAC, the One America Committee. The films followed him around as he traveled the country and the globe to promote an anti-poverty agenda. But they were remarkable—it turned out—not for their content but for the person who made them.
Rielle Hunter was Edward’s documentarian. She was also having an affair with the Senator. Few knew that at the time, of course. But as Edwards began his second run for president in 2007, chatter began to pick up.
I know this because I heard it. In September of that year, I was three-months into my gig as a political reporter at the Huffington Post when I got a tip that Edwards and Hunter had had an affair. It was a difficult story to pursue, and not just because these matters are some of the more sensitive ones to cover. Every video that Hunter had produced had been taken off the Internet. Neither she nor the Edwards campaign would explain why.
I ended up running a story about my search for those videos—a piece that produced such a torrent of mockery that one online poll, which called me a “hack fuck,” had it listed at 84% “blatant hit piece” and 16% “good journalism.” (Those numbers have improved a bit since then)
A few days later, however, a source called me to say that I was indeed on the right track. The source insisted on going by “Not Very Deep Throat.” I happened to be working in the Watergate Hotel. It all felt surreal.
I ended up writing another piece on Hunter before the National Enquirer jumped on the story and stayed on it with far more fervor than I could muster. The rest, of course, is now infamy. Months after Edwards dropped out of the race, the Enquirer broke the story of his affair. Hunter, by that point, had a child. Edwards claimed that the baby wasn’t his, that his longtime aide was the actual father. But it turned out Edwards was lying. Any hope he may have had for a political future was deader than dead.
In the years since, I’ve wondered about Hunter more than Edwards. She seemed to be far less understood. I wanted to know what it was like to see a media firestorm build when you’re squarely in the middle of it. I wanted to know what it was like to be scrutinized and vilified on a national stage. I wanted to know about her perceptions of the press and the moral preening that often defines politics. Selfishly, I wanted to know what she thought of me.
I asked her to be our guest on Candidate Confessional and she accepted. We talked about how that story changed both of our lives a decade ago, and Rielle described what it was like to lose her anonymity and her life as she had known it ― and how her experiences with rapacious media outlets back in the aughts actually give her a bit of sympathy for our current president.
“Candidate Confessional” is produced by Zach Young. To listen to this podcast later, download it on Apple Podcasts. While you’re there, please rate and review our show. To subscribe, visit the following: Apple Podcasts / Acast / RadioPublic