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Video: Elizabeth Edwards: ‘He made this one mistake’

TODAY contributor
updated 5/11/2009 9:18:19 AM ET 2009-05-11T13:18:19

Why would a woman stand by a man who betrayed her? For Elizabeth Edwards, the answer is as easy to explain as it was difficult to reach: Despite the infidelity, he’s a good man.

“This sounds odd, but except for this very big thing that he had done that was bad, I thought I was married — I believe [I am] now — to a magnificent man, someone who truly cared about other people,” the wife of former North Carolina senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Monday in New York. It was her first live television interview since the publication of her book, “Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities”

Edwards has had her share of adversities. She is living with stage 4 breast cancer that has metastasized to her bones and other organs. And she had to deal with the revelation last year that the one-night stand her husband confessed to her was actually an extended affair with a younger woman that may have resulted in his fathering an illegitimate daughter.

‘Trying to avoid dying’
The cancer, she said, affects different parts of her body at different times and is the source of pain. At the moment, Edwards told Lauer, “I’m actually doing all right. Cancer is not a straight line. It’s up and down.”

She said she’ll deal with the side effects of the disease and the drugs she takes to attempt to control it. In any event, dealing with pain is better than the alternative, Edwards said with a gentle smile.

“I just hope to keep going,” she said. “The side effect you are trying to avoid is dying.”

John and Elizabeth Edwards have three children, Cate, 27, Emma Claire, 11, and Jack, who is almost 9. Another son, Wade, died in a car crash in 1996 at the age of 16.

Edwards said she wrote the book for her children and for others dealing with similar trials.

“I hope I have important things to say,” she told Lauer. “Everybody goes through exactly the same thing, and to say you can get through these things too, you’re going to have a tomorrow … I am doing it for my children as well. I do think it’s important for them to have the image I have of them.”

She knows that the book exposes flaws, but, she told Lauer, it’s important for her children to know that even parents aren’t perfect. “My parents are not flawless, either,” Edwards said.

Edwards has been told she may live for several more years and she could die quickly. The cancer she has can’t be eradicated, but it is possible that it can be controlled. She said that if she had believed she had only one more year, she might not have gone ahead with the book. But she has to believe that she has more than that.

Love despite all
During an hour-long prerecorded interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, Edwards had appeared to vacillate when answering a question about whether she still loves her husband. She told Lauer that her answer was misinterpreted in media reports.

Elizabeth Edwards with her husband, John. “I thought I was married — I believe [I am] now — to a magnificent man.”
She talked about how, when she knew she had incurable cancer and was lying in bed with her sparse hair going in every direction, her husband looked at her as if she was the prettiest girl in the world. “I see in the way that he looks at me and cares for me that this relationship is the essential relationship of his life as it is for my life,” Edwards told Lauer.

“He’s been a marvelous father,” she said, adding that John Edwards is genuinely dedicated to battling poverty around the world and helping others. “He made this one mistake, so do I throw out all the good stuff and say, ‘That doesn’t matter, only this matters?’ ” she asked.

So, in answer to Lauer’s question of whether she loves her husband, Edwards replied: “I do love him. I wouldn’t be making all this effort and undergoing all this scrutiny if I didn’t love him. I need him and I really believe he needs me.”

In the wake of the highly publicized affair with freelance videographer Rielle Hunter that was originally exposed by the National Enquirer, John Edwards is under investigation for possible felonies connected to payments made to Hunter through his campaign committee. But Elizabeth Edwards said she is confident her husband broke no laws.

“The way campaign funds are distributed are all a matter of record,” she said. “It’s just not possible” that her husband is guilty of criminal behavior with the funds, she added.

Airing dirty laundry?
Edwards has been harshly criticized by columnists Maureen Dowd of The New York Times and Sally Quinn of The Washington Post for airing her family’s laundry in public. Dowd accused Edwards of “flogging” her husband in public. Quinn excoriated her for letting Edwards run in the Democratic presidential primaries last year while knowing that he had had an affair.

Edwards told Lauer that at the time, she thought that her husband had been guilty of a one-night indiscretion, as he originally had assured her. Had she known that it was much more than that, she said, “I probably would have been more adamant about his not running than I was.”

In her book, Edwards says she hopes that her children will tell their own children that she “stood in the storm.”
Edwards also denied accusations that she wrote the book to gain revenge against Hunter. During the TODAY interview as well as other interviews Edwards has given about the book, Hunter’s name was never mentioned on the air.

“That was never my purpose,” she said.

Lauer read the last paragraph in Edwards’ book aloud:

“I have said before that I do not know what the most important lesson is that I will ever teach my children, Cate and Emma Claire and Jack. I do know that when they are older and telling their own children about their grandmother, they will be able to say that she stood in the storm, and when the wind did not go her way — and surely it has not — she adjusted her sails.”

He asked her if that’s still the message she hopes people come away with.

“It is,” she said. “I hope that it is when bad things happen, you have the strength to face them.”

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