When Rielle Met Johnny
With the publication of “What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me,” Rielle Hunter enters the company of Gennifer Flowers (movies), Donna Rice (jeans) and Monica Lewinsky (handbags) who try to get something other than the obvious out of their brush with political fame.
In Hunter’s book, moxie, ambition, and self-delusion ooze from every pore. Just as Flowers insists she wasn’t just a lounge singer, Hunter maintains that she was more than a videographer. She had studied Eastern philosophy in California and came to New York to be a spiritual adviser.
Maybe that’s why she stood at the door of the Regency Hotel in Manhattan in 2006 and whispered “You’re so hot” in Edwards’s ear. When she found herself sitting on “Johnny’s” bed, she must have exchanged the tenets of Buddha for those of the Kama Sutra, and “the most extraordinary night of my life” ensued. Frances Quinn Hunter, the result of subsequent encounters, is now 4 years old.
And that gives Hunter her excuse for giving up her career in spirituality for writing: She wants her daughter, and Edwards’s children, to have an accurate record of her place in their father’s life.
While most of us would look for a quiet moment and a private venue for such a delicate conversation, Hunter decided the better venue is a book, a prime-time ABC News special and multiple talk shows. The book supplements earlier documentary evidence provided by Hunter in April 2010 in the form of a spread in GQ magazine in which she tells her story posing, legs spread and in a man’s shirt, with a bevy of stuffed animals.
Of course, Quinn could go to the transcript of the trial and find an Edwards’s staffer testifying under oath that Edwards called Hunter a “crazy slut” with expensive tastes upon learning she was pregnant. We can only hope the record is now complete.
We already lived through Edwards’s dalliance with Hunter. Is there any reason to relive it? There is -- if only to see how so many were fooled by such a shallow man. Selected as the vice- presidential candidate of a major party in 2004! Serious candidate for president in 2008! Father of the Year in 2007! Hunter accidentally reveals someone who didn’t deserve to be a senator, much less a president.
Edwards is self-absorbed, vain, lazy and remarkably comfortable with a lie. He spent as much time on the phone (four hours a night) as in briefings. Of course, it showed in the endless primping waiting to go on TV, the empty emoting over the two Americas, the mushy reasons for running.
The only surprise in this book is Hunter giving full vent to her hatred for Elizabeth Edwards, John’s deceased wife, who had to cope with both the return of deadly cancer and Edwards’s affair, which she discovered little by little -- a woman trailing Elizabeth’s husband everywhere with a camera, a secret mobile phone answered with “Hey baby,” and unexplained absences (Edwards once took his two youngest children to the mall so that they could run into Rielle).
In Hunter’s telling, Elizabeth should have been fine with all this. Instead she is a “witch on wheels” who is crazy, venomous and unreasonable. Feeling bad that his wife’s cancer had returned in 2007, Edwards broke up with Hunter and held a press conference saying he would be with Elizabeth every step of the way. Less than 24 hours later, he called Hunter.
What makes this tell-all more noxious is that Edwards is complicit in the further humiliation of his children and his parents. He didn’t write the book, obviously, though some parts detailing Elizabeth’s reaction to Hunter had to come from him. But he has helped to promote it. After Edwards’s trial (at which he was acquitted on one count that he used campaign funds to keep his mistress), he announced from the courthouse steps his devotion to “my precious Quinn, whom I love more than any of you can imagine.”
There was no such fulsome affection for his father, stricken beside him, or his daughter Cate, who lent him dignity every day walking into the courthouse. A couple of weeks later, just before publicity for the book begins, Edwards takes Hunter and his daughter to a beach house in North Carolina to flirt, kiss, and play in the sand. Turns out, lying low was for trial. Frolicking on the beach on Father’s Day weekend while his motherless children celebrated alone -- that’s for the book.
Rielle thinks she’s the victim, Elizabeth the villain and Johnny, who did it all for love, the hero. She expects this book will help Edwards’s children understand and embrace her rather than be sickened by her descriptions of all-night sex with their father and her effort to humiliate the mother they loved. Her book may be shelved under nonfiction, but her story is pure fantasy.
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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To contact the writer of this article: Margaret Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org