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05.11.09

Elizabeth Edwards Fed Herself to the Vultures

Elizabeth Edwards’ appearance with Matt Lauer on the Today show only compounded last week's negative reception to her book.

Elizabeth Edwards tried to undo the damage she did to herself on the Oprah interview last week by sitting down this morning on the Today show with Matt Lauer. The first segment did the trick—it was all about cancer and the death of her son, and Elizabeth looked solid and sympathetic in her brave blue cardigan; but when she inexorably let Matt bore into John's marital infidelity, she inexplicably blew it again. In fact she made it worse. This time, she told Matt, she had written the book as much for the sake of her children as herself. Huh?

Some first TV impressions are indelibly strong and Edwards’ media blitz now is unlikely, in any case, to wipe out the ghastly spectacle of her Oprah exchange.

Video screenshot

Edwards on the Today show; click here for full video.

The hazard of confessional books is how fast the world moves on while they're written. Hearing about that doggy old "misdemeanor"—as she insists on calling her husband's infidelity with a campaign videographer while he was running for president and she was fighting terminal cancer—just drags us back into the messy aftermath of the election season at a time when we are now busy trying to get on with a collapsing economy and save our own lives.

If she had stuck with her health and her loss, Edwards might have held on to our sympathy. But her insistence on belittling to Oprah the dreaded "other woman," Rielle Hunter, who had "spotted him in the hotel," was so embarrassingly self-righteous it almost made me feel sorry for the Democratic twinkie John, who was always under the illusion that he was the next JFK. "I can't deliver the line ['You are so hot'], because I don't know how to deliver such a line as that," Edwards told us, as if this mildly juicy come-on by a campaign groupie had itself been an unspeakable vice.

Edwards kept painting Hunter as a fame seeker, eager to glom onto her husband’s spotlight. Whereas it’s Edwards who has written the book and dragged Hunter into the media glare. The evil perpetrator herself has not said a word and is holed up at an undisclosed location, with her doesn’t-look-like-my-kids baby.

Edwards' professed desire for candor is such she deserves nothing but candor in return. I am afraid that she is crazy if she thinks, as she says she does, that when the American people saw her with John on the campaign trail they thought they looked such a happy and devoted couple. Most people I know thought that Elizabeth looked like an overbearing chief of staff and were mystified that her interruptions were tolerated by someone as clearly in love with himself as John. There was deep public sympathy over the tragedy of the death of their son Wade and later for her brave, unflinching confrontation with a deadly disease, but also bewilderment that she could use this precious time left with her kids to promote her husband's ego-fueled, phony-populist lurch for the White House.

Perhaps the worst thing about the Oprah interview was that it was happening at all. In no other culture in the world can I imagine the flayed, dishonored husband hanging around in the kitchen to tell the person who has just teased out of his wife a replay of his shame that no, he hadn't asked Elizabeth to change one word of what she had written. If he is not lying (again), it's tragic he did not do so, at least for the sake of their kids.

It all feels particularly egregious now that we have learned from George Stephanopoulos yesterday that when the inner circle of John Edwards' campaign began to think the rumors of the Hunter affair were true, several of them got together and devised a "doomsday" strategy of sorts to sabotage his campaign and stop him from becoming the Democratic nominee. No such worries about what sort of damage he might do to the party's electoral chances seemed to bother Elizabeth Edwards.

To sell her own blockbuster memoir, Hillary told Barbara Walters of Bill's infidelity on 20/20, but the former first lady had it all mapped out, a concise walkthrough of remembered pain—now firmly conquered with a slight whiff of well-rehearsed hurt. Resilience, Elizabeth Edwards' book is called, but both the Oprah and now the Lauer interview show a woman still so crushed by marital hurt she is woefully unready to meet the cameras. Someone in Elizabeth Edwards' life should have been found to beg her to desist from this muddled act of self-destruction, if not her husband, then her agent, her publisher, and how much should we blame ourselves in the media? Elizabeth fed herself to vultures. The most painful thing about watching her talk was that she was brave enough to face the truth about her illness but still unable to face the truth about her marriage and the "possible baby."

Tina Brown is the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times best seller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown.