Today's Papers

Pretty Womanizer

The Washington Post leads with one-time Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards’ admission that he had an extramarital affair in 2006 with a filmmaker employed by his campaign. The former senator’s startling confession, also fronted by the Los Angeles Timesand the New York Times, followed months of denials in the face of tabloid reports; in a public statement and a televised interview Edwards continued to deny having fathered a love child and said he had not made payments to the woman involved.

The NYT, LAT, and Wall Street Journal lead with news that Russia is on the brink of war with U.S.-allied Georgia, launching airstrikes on Georgian targets last night and sending troops and tanks to support separatists in the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia. Moscow’s actions drew sharp protests from NATO and Washington; the U.N. Security Council met yesterday but stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire.

In admitting to an affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign staffer he’d hired after a chance meeting in a New York bar, John Edwards did his best to stage-manage the inevitable media feeding frenzy. “Textbook PR timing: Friday, Olympics, a small war,” notesSlate’s Mickey Kaus. “Not quite a Jo Moore Day, but not bad.” In a contrite public statement, Edwards said that he had been “egocentric and narcissistic,” adding: “If you want to beat me up, feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.”

Both in his statement and in an interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff, Edwards sought to squash the most salacious speculation about his tryst, saying that he had never loved Hunter, was not the father of her child, and had not paid her money. In what NYT columnist Gail Collins calls “a new high in the annals of weaseldom,” Edwards also pointedly noted that the affair had taken place while his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, was in remission for cancer, and that he had ended the affair and privately confessed before her cancer returned in 2007. In an unusual move, Elizabeth Edwards published a statement of her own on the Daily Kos website, attacking the media’s “desire for sensationalism and profit without any regard for the human consequences” and praising her husband’s courage and “honesty in the face of shame”.

That did nothing to reduce the exclamatory gloating from the National Enquirer, which first reported the affair in October 2007 and confronted Edwards last month at a Beverly Hills hotel where he met with Hunter for several hours. (Edwards says the meeting was an attempt to persuade Hunter not to go public.) The news also raised questions about the mainstream media’s reticence in following up on the tabloid’s reports; the NYT says it investigated but uncovered little of substance. The LAT also struggled to confirm the scoop: “We’re not in the business of printing things we don’t know to be true,” said Craig Turner, one of the paper’s Page One editors. “The problem with a story like this is that it’s very, very difficult to ascertain the truth until one of the people steps forward.”

It’s unclear what happens next for Edwards, although the scandal probably dashes his hopes of a role in a potential Obama administration. Vacationing in Hawaii, Barack Obama appeared to signal that John and Elizabeth Edwards would not attend the DNC convention. “They have to work through a process of healing,” he told reporters. “My sense is that’s going to be their top priority.”

Georgia and Russia have been spoiling for a fight for some time, and the two countries now seem on the brink of all-out war. Tensions spilled over early yesterday when Georgia launched a large-scale assault on separatist rebels in South Ossetia, an oil-rich sliver of land just south of the Russian border. Moscow, which has long supported the separatists, responded with airstrikes and reportedly ordered troops to enter the province. Both sides reported civilian casualties: South Ossetian officials said 1,400 people had died, while Georgia reported 30 deaths from Russian bombardments.

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili accused Moscow of “a well-planned invasion,” while the country’s Foreign Ministry called for the international community to “give Russia the message that invading the territory of a sovereign state and bombing its territory is unacceptable in the 21st century.” The WSJ says it’s unclear who’s most at fault for the outbreak of violence, but says Saakashvili made a “huge mistake” in underestimating Russia’s willingness to intervene. Given Russia’s military strength, the question now becomes whether Moscow will settle for evicting Georgian troops from South Ossetia, or will go further and seek to depose President Saakashvili altogether.

War and scandal weren’t enough to dislodge the Olympic opening ceremony from the front pages, of course. The spectacular $50-million ceremony, choreographed by House of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou, earned rave reviews from the Post and the LAT for its flawless execution and “humanity.” The NYT saw the spectacular as a bid to convince the outside world of the merits of China’s “harmonious society”, while the WSJ interprets the ceremony’s high-tech stunts—and the choice of a multimillionaire entrepreneur to light the Olympic torch—as an attempt to promote China’s transformation into a modern nation and an economic powerhouse.

Elsewhere, the Post reports that Pakistan’s ruling coalition is pushing ahead with plans to impeach President Pervez Musharraf. It’s unclear whether opposition lawmakers will be able to muster the votes to remove Musharraf from office, or whether the Pakistani leader has sufficient support among the country’s military to counter the move by dissolving parliament; either way, the process could drag on for weeks. The WSJ notes that Islamic militants are taking advantage of the resultant political instability to expand their influence in the region.

And finally … the LAT reports that human yawns are contagious to dogs, perhaps indicating that the animals are capable of a rudimentary form of empathy. Almost three-quarters of dogs tested began to yawn after watching a researcher perform an exaggerated yawn, a substantially higher rate of sympathetic yawning than is found either in humans or in chimpanzees.