Enquirer Editor: I Feel Vindicated

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National Enquirer

National Enquirer's editor in chief, David Perel.

It still pays sources for stories, but the National Enquirer considers itself a part of the mainstream media. Editor David Perel talked to TIME's Kate Pickert about how the tabloid broke the John Edwards infidelity scandal, why the story is important and what it says about the future of journalism.

Do you feel vindicated?

We don't live for the approval of the mainstream media. But when a man who's running for President of the United States stands before the American public and calls your true story tabloid trash, it is so brazen and shocking that when it finally comes out that he was the one lying, yes, there was a certain amount of vindication in that.

Is this the biggest National Enquirer story ever?

I think this is the biggest political scoop we've ever had. And we've had some big ones — the photo of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart's lap, the story in 2003 about Rush Limbaugh being addicted to drugs, Jesse Jackson's love child. But this one is up there with the all-time greatest.

Why is this story important, given that Edwards is no longer running for office?

The story is significant on so many levels, including the fact that he might have really damaged the Democratic Party. You had [Hillary] Clinton's communications director coming out and saying that Edwards' lie cost Hillary the nomination. His dismissive and egotistical attitude goes beyond this being a personal matter. This is a matter of national significance now. I think this will be looked at as a turning point in new media vs. old media — the debate that it has sparked. Some people in the mainstream media treated it with this great sense of ennui, turning up their noses at it. Online, it was very much alive.

What did you like about working on this story?

The story was so difficult to break that it was a great feeling of accomplishment. The story really involved a lot of strategy. I've never seen a presidential candidate come out and tell such a brazen lie that he had to have known would one day come back to haunt him.

Do you think the Internet makes your job easier or harder?

In the online world, where there are so many voices and opinions, it's easier for people to see that our stories are accurate. But there's more competition. Our website, which is not big or well-funded, makes our job easier in the sense that the Internet can really be a good part of our strategy. We broke the story about Edwards at the Beverly Hilton [with his lover Rielle Hunter and her child] online. It was hours past our [print] deadline, but I would have broken it online anyway because I wanted to convey that sense of immediacy — that the story was unfolding. I wanted to be able to say the Enquirer caught him at the Beverly Hilton two hours ago, not last Monday. We've had a record number of hits on the website this month.

Everyone is anxious to see if you have more pictures of Edwards at the hotel. Do you?

We have images that we haven't released. That became one of the interesting psychological battlegrounds. After we caught him, members of the mainstream media kept saying, "Release the pictures, and then we'll write about it." Some of them would call me up. Our feeling was that we weren't working the story for them. Send reporters to the hotel and confirm it yourself. FoxNews.com did, and they confirmed it. A lot of other people simply just didn't chase it. I was not going to work this story according to anybody else's timetable. We knew the story was true, and our feeling was that ultimately it would prove to be one of our great political scoops, and if it took years, then it would take years. We were going to get him in a situation where he could not get out of it by just lying.

How much contact did you have with Edwards' people?

They knew we were on the story because we had tracked down Rielle in North Carolina, photographed her in a public place and then approached her for comment. She denied she was Rielle Hunter. We confronted [self-proclaimed father of Hunter's child] Andrew Young. He denied that he was Andrew Young until his wife came out of the house and said, "Andrew!" Then it moved into the stage where lawyers started calling. Edwards' people obviously wanted us to kill the story. At one point, they offered an affidavit saying that the affair was not true. The affidavit was never delivered. I offered to kill the story if he would take a polygraph. They declined that offer.

How are the reporting methods employed by the National Enquirer different than those used by the mainstream media?

One thing that unfortunately is affecting the rest of the mainstream media is the cutbacks in daily newspapers and other news organizations. They do not have the resources to do too many stories at once, whereas we get to pick and choose what we chase. I'm not at a daily newspaper. I don't have to cover the budget meetings. I don't have to cover the war in Georgia. So when a story starts to pan out and it looks big, then we start throwing more people at it. We have that luxury.

What's your policy on paying sources for information?

There are stories where we pay for information as long as it's verified and credible. If somebody tells us that John Edwards is going to be at a hotel with Rielle Hunter on July 21 and they show up, sure, we will pay for that. But if they don't show up, we won't pay. It's much the same way that police pay informants. The truth is, the mainstream media will pay for photographs and then say they got the interview for free. It's all part and parcel of the same thing.

How do you feel about your publication being described as a supermarket tabloid?

It is tabloid-size, and it is sold in the supermarket. Some people try to use that term in a disparaging way, as John Edwards did — which I thought was hilarious, by the way. Let's face it, they're all sold in supermarkets.

Do you feel like you're outside of mainstream media?

When you have 3 or 4 million people handling each issue, you're not outside the mainstream. You're in the mainstream. People who call themselves mainstream media—they're just élitist.

What did you think about the interview Edwards gave to ABC News in which he basically admitted the affair?

I thought that he still was incapable of telling the truth. I thought I had an advantage watching it over most people because I knew exactly where he was lying, but I don't think he fooled a lot of people.

Were you surprised that Edwards decided to give the interview to ABC News?

No, because I knew what was going on behind the scenes. We were in touch with a lot of journalists from a lot of different news organizations. The pressure was building on him. He broke because other news organizations were closing in on him and he knew he could no longer just dismiss it as tabloid trash.

What do you think about the fact that Edwards gave the interview the same day that the Olympic Games opened in Beijing?

He dictated the timing. He's a very calculated man. He's certainly not the man he presented himself to be to the American public.