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Several media outlets -- including NBC's Nightly News, ABCNews.com, and MSNBC's First Read weblog -- misrepresented Democratic presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards' (NC) comments at a June 7 press conference to suggest that he drew a parallel between celebrity heiress Paris Hilton's initial release from (and subsequent return to) jail and the class divide in the United States -- one of his signature campaign issues. In fact, Edwards mentioned Hilton only after a reporter posed a question linking her to Edwards' message about economic inequality, as Media Matters for America has noted. Moreover, Edwards said specifically that he was going to "stay out of the Paris Hilton story" and stated twice that his comments were "without regard to Paris Hilton."
According to a transcript of the exchange posted on The New York Times' political weblog, The Caucus, a reporter asked Edwards: "Senator you speak all the time about two Americas, can you just tell us briefly, you know, what you think the message sends that Paris Hilton got out of jail after three days, when she was originally supposed to spend 45 days in jail?" Edwards responded that he was going to "stay out of the Paris Hilton story" and went on to note his goal of "clos[ing] the gap that exists in America today between those who are doing well and everything else." In reiterating his message on the class divide in the United States, Edwards stated twice that his comments were "without regard to Paris Hilton." From the transcript posted on The Caucus:
Reporter: Senator, you speak all the time about two Americas, can you just tell us briefly, you know, what you think the message sends that Paris Hilton got out of jail after three days, when she was originally supposed to spend 45 days in jail?
Mr. Edwards: Um, I'm gonna stay out of the Paris Hilton story.
Although I saw it seems to be completely dominating the news, I had the television on just before I came down. Uh, I still do believe, without regard to Paris Hilton, that, uh, we have two Americas and I think what's important is, it's obvious that the problem exists.
The issue is what are we going to do to create one America with universal health care, with more economic equality, having, raising the minimum wage, access to decent housing, access to college for kids who can't afford it? Those are the tools, some of the tools, that allow us to close the gap that exists in America today between those who are doing well and everything else. I think the next president of the United States is going to have a huge responsibility. ... It's not healthy for our economy, it's not healthy for our democracy, and I think we need to do something about it -- without regard to Paris Hilton.
On the June 9 edition of Nightly News, NBC News correspondent John Larson stated that "[e]veryone, it seems, has a comment" on the Hilton story, and proceeded to play a clip of Edwards asserting: "I still do believe, without regard to Paris Hilton, that we have two Americas." But Edwards did not have "a comment" on the Hilton story, except to note that the story was "dominating the news"; he stated explicitly that he was not going to comment, and responding to the question about the link between Hilton and his "two Americas," theme, he said that his remarks were "without regard to Paris Hilton."
From the June 9 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:
[begin video clip]
LARSON: Everyone, it seems, has a comment, from the LA city attorney --
NICK VELASQUEZ (Los Angeles Attorney's Office spokesman): If you're rich and powerful and have connections that you are above the law.
LARSON: -- to Al Sharpton --
REV. AL SHARPTON: It is the release that raises the question of class and race.
LARSON: In Hilton's case, her fame appears to have cut both ways. It may have helped spring her early, but tonight may be playing a larger role in leaving her behind bars. John Larson, NBC News, Los Angeles.
[end video clip]
HOLT: And when we come back tonight, we're getting late word on a major expansion of a ground beef recall with some important information coming right up.
Meanwhile, on June 9, ABCNews.com reported:
From the fans and protestors who stood outside the courtroom, to the candidates on the presidential campaign trail, people were debating the case and what it means.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, N.C., told reporters it pointed out the difference between class in America.
"I still believe, without regard to Paris Hilton, that we have two Americas," Edwards said.
Late night talk show host Jay Leno joked Hilton left jail with the one license plate she managed to finish, reading "DBL STNDRD."
As with the NBC News report, this article falsely suggested that Edwards cited the Hilton story in order to "point out the difference between class in America," while quoting him saying that his remarks about the "two Americas" were "without regard to Paris Hilton." The article did not mention Edwards' initial response that he intended to "stay out of the Paris Hilton story."
Additionally, a June 7 post on MSNBC's First Read weblog asserted that, in response to a reporter's question, Edwards "dr[ew] a parallel to his 'Two Americas' stump speech about poverty." But, again, Edwards did not draw such a parallel; the reporter did in asking the question. First Read also went on to quote Edwards claiming that his comments were "without regard to Paris Hilton."
From the First Read post, titled "Edwards on Paris Hilton":
Well, kind of ... After Edwards delivered a national security speech today, reporters asked him about ... Paris Hilton! Although he declined to comment on the heiress's abbreviated incarceration, he did draw a parallel to his "Two Americas" stump speech about poverty. Citing statistics on income disparity, he said, "That gap's not healthy. It's not healthy for our economy, it's not healthy for our democracy, and I think we need to do something about it -- without regard to Paris Hilton."
Similarly, as Media Matters noted, on the June 8 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto falsely asserted that Edwards "used" the Hilton story "in part of his campaign comments, talking about the dichotomy between the rich and the poor." Further, on the June 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Sunday, host Greg Kelly stated: "[A]ccording to John Edwards, this kind of drives home his point about two Americas. He said this on the campaign trail: 'I still believe,' he said, 'with regard to Paris Hilton, that we have two Americas.' " In fact, Edwards said: "I still do believe, without regard to Paris Hilton, that we have two Americas." [Emphasis added]