Edwards to editor on Hunter story last year: Did I mention my wife has cancer?

Via Byron York, who calls it “breathtaking” when it’s really just par for the course. In case you were wondering whether Edwards himself was stoking the “protect Elizabeth” meme to get big media to suppress the story, consider your suspicions confirmed. Flashback to October 11, 2007, shortly after the Enquirer’s story first broke and Edwards had finally been asked about it on the trail. The editor of his hometown paper, the News & Observer, was weighing whether to report the denial — they didn’t, of course — when the phone rang.

By the time Edwards called, we had decided not to publish the story in the Friday paper. But Edwards didn’t know that. I wanted to hear what he had to say. We still could have reversed our decision.

Edwards told me that the allegations were not true.

He said The N&O was the paper that arrived on his doorstep every day, the one read by friends of him and his wife, Elizabeth.

He said he’d never called before to complain or state his case. Given Elizabeth’s health — she has cancer — he said it was especially important to him that the story not run in The N&O.

He was calling from an airport, and we spoke only a few minutes.

I made no promises.

Edwards’ comments were off the record. Because he has acknowledged he lied, I feel free to report them.

Anything wrong with a guilty husband doing what little he can to protect his sick wife after the fact? Nope — except that, as we now know by Edwards’s own admission, Elizabeth Edwards had already learned about the affair by that point. He claims he told her in 2006; HuffPo’s timeline says it was April 2007 at the latest, fully six months before the Enquirer story broke. Which makes what he told the N&O a lie, and a bad lie at that. Was he seriously suggesting that she wouldn’t have found out about the story if their hometown paper hadn’t mentioned it when it was already screaming from every checkout counter in America?

The real intrigue about this N&O vignette isn’t that Edwards would stoop to it but that it leaves you wondering how often he and his staffers stooped to it to bat away inquiries from major papers during the past year. Sad to say, this isn’t the first time he’s been accused of bringing up family tragedy to ingratiate himself with an audience. The most notorious example is Bob Shrum’s report last year of the “chilling” story Edwards twice told John Kerry, each time with the caveat that it was the first time he’d ever told it, but he resorted to it in his campaign ads too. Remember this spot from last November? “As subtle as a Mack truck,” Slate called it. Semi-related exit quotation: “I’m not supposed to talk.”