THERE'S A CERTAIN LIGHTNESS TO RICK EGUSQUIZA. You can see it in his West Coast hipster look-flip-flops and black-rimmed glasses--and his easy smile. It's a nice vibe, although hard to reconcile with the person whom so many celebrities-and one former presidential candidate in particular--would like to take a shot at.
Egusquiza, "Egg-Goose-Geese-Ah," as he instructs, is the gay reporter for the National Enquirer who first broke the story of John Edwards's extramarital affair-10 months before mainstream media picked it up. As he strolls into a cafe near his home in Los Angeles's Venice Beach area, the fit 45-year-old immediately starts chatting and laughing with the woman pouring his coffee. Then he chirps away with other patrons while he stirs in milk and sweetener.
"I talk to everyone: cab drivers, people in stores," Egusquiza says. "I hand my card out. I say, 'If you know anyone or see any thing ...'" And often people do know someone or see something and call, which is how the Cuban-American (his parents emigrated to the United States in the late 1950s) continually cultivates tipsters. "I don't twist anyone's arm," he says. "I put them at ease. I'm just myself--aggressive in a nonthreatening manner."
On a late afternoon in September 2007, Egusquiza was thinking of heading home from the Enquirer's Santa Monica offices when the phone rang. He picked up the receiver, and the caller began to reveal evidence of an affair between Edwards and a 43-year-old filmmaker named Rielle Hunter.
"I was like, Whoa. If this is true, this could be big," recalls Egusquiza, who then proceeded to tease more information from his source. It's a practice he's perfected in the eight years lie's been with the Enquirer. "I don't come off as if we need to know or we're in a rush. I talk like I'm talking to a friend," he explains. If a source hesitates, he says, "this stuffgets out. If it's not you, it'll be someone else."
The Edwards source dished out juicy details, including the names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of people who knew about the relationship. The second he hung up, Egusquiza sent his editors an e-mail: "John Edwards is cheating on his wife ... the woman worked on Edwards' campaign staff.... Let's probe."
The following month, on October 10, the Enquirer published Egusquiza's first story on the affair under the headline "Presidential Cheating Scandal! Alleged Affair Could Wreck John Edwards' Campaign Bid." The story unleashed a flood of additional tips, and for the next year Egusquiza and five other Enquirer reporters fanned out across North Carolina, New York, Los Angeles, St. Croix, and Santa Barbara, Calif., collecting e-mails, scouring phone records, watching videos, knocking on doors, and making calls.
"They were comfortable enough to invite me into their homes," Egnsquiza says of his sources. "I sat at kitchen tables and [drank] iced tea. We're not meeting in dark alleys--they trust me."
But as Egusquiza knows, trust can be hard-won or, in a pinch, bought. The Enquirer will pay anywhere between hundreds and thousands of dollars, depending on the information. Occasionally, a light dusting of deception can also help a hesitant tipster unlock her jaws. …