Going Public, Elizabeth Edwards Faces Questions

By: Jocelyn Noveck AP Email
By: Jocelyn Noveck AP Email

NEW YORK (AP) - Back in August, on the day John Edwards acknowledged he'd had an extramarital affair, his wife of three decades begged for privacy and a respite from what she called the
"voyeurism" that brought the story to light.

The story eventually died down, as all stories do. But now it's back, and it's Elizabeth Edwards who's talking - in her new book,"Resilience," and an accompanying media blitz, from Oprah Winfrey to Larry King to Jon Stewart to the ladies of "The View."

And people are asking just what this highly popular woman - admired for her toughness, her intelligence, her down-home appeal and her brave fight against terminal cancer - is trying to accomplish.

Is it revenge, some ask, against her husband, the two-time Democratic presidential candidate, who'd surely prefer not to be back in the news - particularly when described as a man who ruined his political career over the phrase, "You are so hot"?

Could it be a pre-emptive strike against the other woman, Rielle Hunter, others ask, in case she harbors hopes of a future with John Edwards?

Or is it merely a heartfelt attempt by Edwards to tell the story exactly as she lived it, in her own expressive words, on her own terms, and in her own time?

The release of the book, "Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities," comes at a newly turbulent time for the couple. John Edwards recently acknowledged he's the subject of a federal inquiry into whether he improperly spent campaign funds in connection with the affair. Speculation also continues as to whether he's the father of Hunter's baby girl; he has denied paternity, but even his wife says she has no idea.

Meanwhile, the couple remains together with their children at home in North Carolina, working on rebuilding their marriage, they say.

Which is why some wonder why Elizabeth Edwards would want to
dredge all the details up again in such a public way.

"John Edwards' political career is over," wrote columnist Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, in one of the harshest critiques. "Now Saint Elizabeth has dragged him back into the public square for a flogging on Oprah and in Time and at bookstores near you."

The book, Dowd wrote, is "just a gratuitous peek into their lives, and one that exposes her kids, by peddling more dregs about
their personal family life."

In an hourlong appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Thursday
(actually taped weeks earlier), Elizabeth Edwards did not name Hunter once, and neither did the host - it was a condition of the interview. The Associated Press was unable to speak to Edwards directly because of her condition that nowhere in the article could Hunter's name appear. Instead, Edwards' publishers relayed her answers to the AP.

Asked her motivation in writing the book, Edwards said she didn't yet know about her husband's infidelity when she agreed to the project, according to David Drake, publicity director for Broadway Books. And when her husband did break the news to her, she decided not to write it.

"But then she asked herself, 'Am I going to allow these setbacks to limit my life?"' said Drake. Edwards, he said, wanted to make a real effort to talk about three experiences she considered universal: the death of a child (her 16-year-old son, Wade, who was killed in a car accident in 1996); a cancer diagnosis; and infidelity.

She realized she might be accused of dragging her husband or his former mistress through the mud, or of trying to exact revenge. "But she decided it was more important to speak about issues she's experienced and to share her story," Drake said.

As for the condition on those interviewing her not to mention Hunter's name, Drake said: "She doesn't have any interest in bringing this woman into the spotlight."

But it's the spotlight on her husband, her family and also herself that give some people pause, although many, writing on blogs, have added that they still support her choice to be as public as she chooses.

"Seriously, with all that woman and family has been through ... why does she want more spotlight?" one poster asked on urbanbaby.com, a site for mothers. "But until you walk in someone's shoes..."

Another felt Edwards was making the right choice. "I think it is smart," the poster wrote. "This is the way to remind the public to shame him into keeping that 'other woman' away."

And there's even been a glimmer or two of support for her husband. "Give John Edwards a break!" wrote shaman7214 on washingtonpost.com. "He had a moment of weakness ... let's get
some perspective here."

One writer on Salon.com, Rebecca Traister, called Elizabeth Edwards' media tour, which continues into the next two weeks, "one of the most sadomasochistic publicity jaunts in political history." And yet she also saw Edwards making a valiant attempt "to stare directly at agony, embarrassment, fury and fear without blinking, and to describe it as honestly and precisely as possible."

In the end, though, she saw Elizabeth Edwards, as some others have, in a state of denial - one that began with her supporting her husband's decision to continue his campaign, when they both knew the revelations could break at any moment, perhaps affecting the ultimate outcome of the presidential race. (Edwards says she first told her husband he should withdraw, but then agreed with him that it would raise too many questions.)

For conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, it came down to cold hard cash.

"Whatever Elizabeth Edwards tells Oprah, she was her husband's co-conspirator in his reckless pursuit of power, and now she's cashing out on the whole sorry spectacle," Parker wrote on The Daily Beast. "A book tour is designed to sell books, isn't it?"

But most were not quite as cynical. On Politico.com, Roger Simon wrote that Edwards came across in her interview with Winfrey as "an enormously appealing and an enormously sympathetic figure." He noted her much-quoted description of throwing up after learning of her husband's actions.

"I can completely understand that," Simon wrote. "What I can't completely understand is why, nearly two and half years later, she wants to wallow in it now."


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