Rehabilitating John Edwards: Mike Sitrick Tells Time Magazine

There’s unpopular, there’s widely loathed, there’s despised, and then there’s John Edwards. Americans are a tolerant people, but they have a line, and evidently, when you cheat on your cancer-stricken wife, lie about it to everyone while running for president, and then decline to acknowledge fathering a love child for two years, you’ve crossed it. Given the towering stack of strikes against him, can Edwards resume any kind of public life? Short of curing his wife’s cancer, is there anything he could do to get people to at least tolerate him?

According to a recent poll, the former presidential candidate is now historically disfavored. After taking the opinions of 678 North Carolina Voters, Public Policy Polling announced on Jan. 19 that with a 15% approval rate, Edwards was the most unpopular person it had ever polled — and this is from the state that gave us Jesse Helms. Another poll named him the most disappointing person of 2009. Yes, Edwards has come a long way from those blissful days when all most people hated him for was his $400 haircuts.

Image consultants and PR managers, who are professionally optimistic, say it’s possible for him to rehabilitate his public image, but not easy. First up, he has to come totally clean and he has to do so in front of a camera. On Jan. 21, just shy of Quinn Hunter’s second birthday, Edwards issued a statement that finally copped to him being her father. “It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me,” the press release said. Nuh-uh. For a doozy like that, you have to front up personally, say the experts. “I can’t emphasize enough — the tone of voice is the most important element,” says Mike Sitrick of the PR firm Sitrick and Company. “This is an art, not a science.”