What is John Edwards waiting for?

Is the politician going to announce that he's the father of Rielle Hunter's baby, or what?

By Kate Harding
Published September 21, 2009 2:22PM (EDT)

Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times reported over the weekend that John Edwards is thinking of publicly confirming that he's the father of Rielle Hunter's 19-month-old baby. This comes a month after North Carolina television station WRAL reported the same thing, which was right around the time the National Enquirer announced that "secret DNA testing" had already proven it. And going by the tabloid's track record on this story, that means it stands a pretty good chance of being true.

Meanwhile, in the absence of the sort of hard proof the Enquirer claims to have acquired, the Times has collected every damning rumor or bit of circumstantial evidence available. For instance, former aide Andrew Young, who originally claimed to be the baby's father, has written a proposal for a tell-all memoir in which he says Edwards asked a wealthy donor if he knew a doctor who would falsify a DNA test, and that "Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band." (Ouch. So far, Elizabeth Edwards has succesfully balanced standing by her man with making it abundantly clear she is not amused, but if that allegation is true -- with or without the Dave Matthews bit, but especially with it -- I think I speak for America when I say, "DTMFA.") Those are probably the most disturbing allegations, but my favorite is this one: "Ms. Hunter gave her daughter the middle name Quinn, and people who have spoken with her said its resemblance to the Latin prefix for five was to proclaim that the baby was Mr. Edwards's fifth child." Never mind that the name Quinn has been skyrocketing in popularity for the last few years, especially for girls. It's almost like "quint"!

I'm not sure what it says about this story that the National Enquirer has been way ahead of everyone else from Day One, while the New York Times is not only playing catch-up but resorting to etymological speculation from anonymous sources. (I mean, besides that Edwards apparently surrounded himself with way too many people who would be willing to talk for money.) But at this point, I'm hard-pressed to say why Edwards hasn't tried to get out in front of this. Since even his lawyer's comment on the issue is not a categorical denial, but "there may be a statement on that subject at some point, but there is no timetable and we will see how we feel about it as events unfold," it's hard to believe the Enquirer's got this one wrong. And as Lewis puts it, if the politician 'fesses up to being little Frances Quinn's father, he "could suffer a further blow to his credibility but could also be praised for belatedly accepting responsibility." Seeing as how the credibility ship has pretty well sailed, if it's true, I'd certainly go with the option that might lead to tepid praise -- and, as Sarah Hepola pointed out, a real child support arrangement.  

Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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Broadsheet John Edwards Rielle Hunter