The job title of Rielle Hunter, the woman with whom John Edwards finally admitted to having an affair, keeps changing, from videographer to actress to former yoga instructor to documentary filmmaker. What do you call someone who was paid at least $100,000 to create a web series about the candidate, “untucked”? Besides, of course, “John Edwards’ mistress.”
In December 2006, John Edwards kicked off his presidential campaign by inviting a large group of videobloggers with him to New Orleans, where he announced his candidacy. Those on the trip got an intimate look at the campaign behind the scenes — a look that, a year and a half later, has led to the end of Edwards’ political career.
Hunter wasn’t technically an outside videoblogger — she was working for the campaign — and the videos she created for the Edwards campaign site are no longer available there. However, because nothing ever really goes away on the Internet, the episodes have since popped up on YouTube.
The first episode, entitled Plane Truths is actually pretty compelling stuff, cross-cutting between Edwards showing off his rough notes for the night’s speech and the actual speech. Edwards then goofs off a little, talking about how he has no idea what cool is, before the video segues into a discussion of why he’s glad to have included videobloggers in his campaign. In his words: “I think it helps that you guys are filming all the time, instead of just when I’m speaking in front of a big crowd speaking. That’s why this, I absolutely believe, has the potential to change how we do this, in a very good way.”
For Edwards, though, the December 2006 trip has backfired on a Gary Hart-esque scale. When NewTeeVee originally covered the story of Edwards’ YouTube candidacy, the concern at the time was that by keeping online journalists close to the campaign’s bosom, their objectivity would be compromised.
But what’s happened instead is that by giving videobloggers unparalleled access to the campaign, they were able to observe and record everything they saw — and speak somewhat candidly about it. From Rocketboom correspondent Chuck Olson’s blog entry describing his encounter with Hunter:
She was very outgoing, maybe even flirtatious, but really nice. I asked how she got the gig filming webisodes, and she said she met him in a bar and they clicked, and she proposed some online documentary showing his authenticity…
Unfortunately, I’ve always held a small seed of suspicion that the affair rumors could be true from my short experience with the campaign…
Olson’s blog post was accompanied by a video he shot while on the plane — until the Associated Press bought the footage from him. Former PodTech correspondent Robert Scoble was also there — and his photos, viewable on Flickr, are available for purchase.
Hunter has kept quiet about the affair, but Web Scout’s fantastic analysis of her videos notes several instances when the flirtation between her and Edwards was clearly apparent — after the fact, her online video work is still helping to paint the full picture.
Since the story broke in full, Hunter has fled the spotlight for Santa Barbara, Calif., a move that was paid for by Fred Baron, finance chair of John Edwards’ campaign, a major fundraiser for the Democratic party, and the father of Rocketboom‘s Andrew Baron, who was also a part of the December 2006 New Orleans trip. Rocketboom has conducted multiple interviews with the candidate, and had a consulting gig on the campaign. But even these ties to the campaign haven’t kept Olson from reporting on what he saw.
It’s one small world, and if there’s anything to learn, it’s this: Edwards was right. The freedom with which we now share information is changing the way politics in this country work, and for the better — because it demands better of our politicians. Unfortunately, what Edwards found out was that if your actions can’t stand up to that kind of scrutiny, giving online video a front-row seat isn’t the smartest move.