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50+ Years of the National Enquirer
by Billy Ingram
To set itself apart from rival publications, the National Enquirer made the decision in 1974 to become more journalistically responsible and began fact checking their articles. No more would they completely fabricate tales, two independent sources were required for each story - although both sources could be paid for by the magazine.
With fewer Bigfoot stories to run, the Enquirer began breaking real news stories, rummaging through Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's trash to find classified documents in 1975, uncovering proof of Joan Kennedy's alcoholism during an election cycle, exposing governmental waste and, more recently, discovering crucial evidence in the O.J. Simpson trial and outing John Edward's affair.
On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died suddenly.
Like striking oil, tabloid sales shot through the roof, peaking at seven million copies a week when Elvis appeared on the cover of the National Enquirer lying embalmed in his coffin. (It may have been the National Enquirer's extraordinary efforts to acquire that 'photo' that led to our current paparazzi frenzy, although that picture looked more like an illustration to me.)
In the ensuing media circus surrounding Elvis' death, the Enquirer herded so many reporters into Nashville they had to purchase a $100,000 fully furnished home for them all to stay in.
Later that same year, Bing Crosby passed away. The Enquirer went to great lengths to get a photo of the beloved crooner in his coffin, resorting to all sorts of slick maneuvers, like bribing a funeral home worker and having multiple decoy getaway cars screeching from the scene to confound anyone who might try to follow.
After John Lennon's horrendous coffin cover photo, public disgust demanded there be no more stiff stars staring out from the checkout stands. Still, sales of the Enquirer remained strong at 5.9 million copies a week in 1978.
In 1979, the Enquirer underwent another makeover by adding full color covers and color photo spreads. By the end of the Eighties, stars like O. J. Simpson and the dysfunctional Jackson family began doing things so outrageous that they blew poor Sonny and Cher right off the covers.
Tabloid TV burst into full bloom in the eighties with shows like Hard Copy, Entertainment Tonight, A Current Affair and others - and the newsstand tabloids started to feel the pinch.
In 1988, with sales down to 4.3 million, the Enquirer and its sister publication Weekly World News were sold for $412.5 million - and later sold again to American Media, which now publishes all 6 of the supermarket tabloids.
The first case against the modern tabloids went to trial in 1976 when Carol Burnett sued the Enquirer for falsely reporting that she was drunk in public - she received a judgment (but not much money) in 1981.
Ed McMahon, Rory Calhoun and Hedy Lamar all sued the Enquirer in the mid-seventies and Shirley Jones and husband Marty Ingels went to court in 1977 over the headline, "Husband's Bizarre Behavior Driving Shirley Jones To Drink."
Paul Lynde unsuccessfully hit the Enquirer up for $10 million in 1979 because 'an insider' claimed Lynde was forced to leave the Hollywood Squares because his costars objected "to his drinking and nastiness" - which was perfectly true but Lynde countered, "It's worth a lawsuit just to find out who the insider is."
Cher managed to win a $663,234 judgment against the Star in 1981 for misappropriation of her image for commercial purposes.
Elizabeth Taylor sued the Enquirer in the nineties (when circulation was hovering around 4 million a week) for a headline that read: "While Doctor's Battle To Save Her Life... Liz Boozes It Up In Hospital."
In 2001, singer Aretha Franklin claimed a story in the Star defamed her when they alleged that she abused alcohol; she sued for $50 million in damages.
As late as 2006, the British edition of the National Enquirer forked out an undisclosed sum and published an apology for a 2005 article that claimed Kate Hudson was, "way too thin... like skin and bones" and had, "recklessly and foolishly endangered her health" by not eating.
Today, the public doesn't much care who the celebrity is on the cover of a tabloid, it's more about whatever depraved thing a famous person (that you may or may not have heard of) did that week. Our runaway celebrity culture (coupled with over a hundred available cable channels) creates a greater number of well-know people than ever before - bountiful grist for the tabloid mill.
In 2010 The National Enquirer is actually being considered for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for their coverage of the John Edwards scandal.
Overall, there's no need for tabloids to make up wild stories like they did in the old days, disgruntled assistants to the stars are only too happy to sell their insider information for extra cash.
Truth, after all, is stranger than fiction. At least it's supposed to be in Hollywood.
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