I’m actually glad HuffPo is the site to scoop this, just to drive home the point that even the leftiest of left-wing sites is more willing than big media these days to bite on a good story that hurts its own side. Follow the timeline: Edwards and Hunter meet in early 2006; according to e-mails obtained by HuffPo, Hunter is cooing as early as April about a married man she visited in North Carolina; the first check from the campaign to Hunter’s, ahem, film company then goes out on July 5. Here’s how Edwards remembered it:

WOODRUFF: When you hired Ms. Hunter, that was back in 2006, the committee hired in July 2006, paid her $114,000 to make films for you. She did have a lot of experience. Uh was the affair going on when you hired her?

EDWARDS: No. No. And again, I always said this to you, I don’t think I’m going to go through the details of this, I already did it with Elizabeth– uh, she was hired to come in and produce films and that’s the reason she was hired.

WOODRUFF: But this had nothing to do with the fact that you were having an affair with her?

EDWARDS: Same answer. Same answer — no I did not.

WOODRUFF: So you hired her before it even started?

EDWARDS: That is correct.

In other words, his version implicitly is that she was hired on the merits and they became involved during the course of her work. HuffPo’s version, also implicitly, is that her campaign job was a sinecure provided by Edwards after they became involved, possibly as a love token, possibly as a way of buying her silence about the affair. Given the fact that she had basically no experience and didn’t even start her company until that spring, whose version is more plausible? Note also that the only reason we know about this exchange with Woodruff is from the partial transcript ABC put out; unless I missed something, the actual footage of it didn’t air on Nightline. Which means, bizarrely, they thought it was significant enough to include in the written version of the interview published on their website but not in the video version that ran on national television.

Speaking of which, remember the (admittedly easy) speculation in yesterday’s post about Edwards trying to bury the exclusive on a day when there’s a mountain of other big news? Surprise:

[Brian] Ross and his producers at ABC News had been insistently dogging Edwards for some time, uncovering the money trail from an Edwards’ campaign contributor, Fred Baron, to Hunter, who was installed in a $3 million house in Santa Barbara, Calif.

But Edwards insisted that the interview be exclusive to ABC’s late-night news program Nightline and that Bob Woodruff, not Ross, conduct the interview…

Edwards had hoped to control the news cycle by making his admission late on a Friday night when the country was watching the Olympics and the long weekend yawned ahead.

According to multiple sources, Edwards was apoplectic that ABC News broke the story on its website and began promoting it early on Friday, giving the rest of the media a chance to play catch-up and site ABC News’ report. (Representatives for Edwards did not return a call or e-mail for comment.)…

According to ABC News spokeswoman Natalie Raabe, it was agreed that “promotion of the interview could begin immediately after it was completed.” Additionally, she said, “quotations” could be used on Friday’s World News where Edwards’ words, not footage from the interview, were used via an on-screen graphic in a report fronted by Ross.

As for the baby, here’s a snippet from CNN yesterday in which a reporter from the Enquirer asks and then answers the question on everyone’s mind. I confess, I’m thrown by the fact that Edwards would offer publicly to take a paternity test; if he tries to weasel out of it now, for any reason, any few lingering doubts about the paternity will detonate. Better to have ducked the subject by saying he won’t participate in anything that might further inflame the story “for Elizabeth’s sake.” On the other hand, to believe that Andrew Young would move the mother of his love child into the same neighborhood — and possibly into the same house — as his actual family, you have to believe that he’s the most responsible adulterer who ever lived and his wife is the most understanding wronged spouse who ever lived. Which, in light of Fred Baron being the best friend who ever lived, would mean John Edwards is surrounded by a remarkably compassionate circle of people.

Purely speculative exit question: Why did Hunter choose to have the baby? If this is all as nefarious as it sounds, there must have been intense pressure to abort it from people with enough money to make it worth her while.

Update: I changed the headline from “lied” to “may have lied” because I notice HuffPo doesn’t explicitly accuse him of having deliberately misled ABC. Follow the logic of Sam Stein’s post, though, and the only way his mistake could be innocent is if his honest memory of when the affair started is off by six three months or more (and possibly as many as six or seven).

Update: No wonder he’s willing to take a paternity test. She isn’t:

Rielle Hunter, the former presidential campaign aide who had an affair with John Edwards, said yesterday that she will not pursue DNA testing to establish the paternity of her 5-month-old daughter, despite the former senator’s offer to participate in such a test.

In a statement provided to The Washington Post, Hunter said through her attorney that she would not take a genetic test “now or in the future.”

The attorney, Robert Gordon, called Hunter a “private” person who is “not running for public office” and would not comment further on the media frenzy engulfing her.

“She wishes to maintain her privacy and her daughter’s privacy,” he said in the statement. “Furthermore, Rielle will not participate in DNA testing or any other invasion of her or her daughter’s privacy now or in the future.”

How suspicious is this? Well, when Woodruff pressed him on the paternity test yesterday, Edwards said he’d be happy to take one — but then volunteered, strangely, “I’m only one side — I’m only one side of the test, but I’m happy to participate in one.” That actually piqued Woodruff’s curiosity enough to ask him whether Hunter said she doesn’t want to do a test (Edwards claimed he didn’t know). And now, a mere 24 hours later, as luck would have it she doesn’t want to do a test after all, leaving Silky blissfully off the hook. New exit question: How much did Hunter’s willing embrace of ignorance as to the paternity of her child cost Fred “The Best Friend Anyone’s Ever Had” Baron?