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November 04, 1979 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-11-04
This is a tabloid page

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Page 8-Sunday, November 4, 1979-The Michigan Daily

(Continued from Page 5)
having seen the picture in the Enquirer. "I have no
idea who would have taken advantage of a family
during this situation. I don't know anybody who
would want to do that, but maybe someday we'll
The National Enquirer has few sacred cows, and
less taboos. It surprises a lot of people, usually non-
readers, that there is little sex in the tabloid each
week. "We aren't even allowed to use the WORD,"
exaggerates one reporter, and, in truth, the
Enquirer consistently uses phrases like "the couple
have been spotted kissing and cuddling like young
lovers" or, occasionally, "spent the night
together," instead of the more graphic equivalents.
The self-help and medical articles never contain
references to direct improvement in one's sex life.
Violence and gore are also out. No more "I Put My
Baby In a Wastebasket and Poured Concrete Over
Her," say executives. They look for upbeat stories
that are "of interest to more than 50 per cent of the
reading population," according to published inter-
views with Gene Pope.
What is of such interest to Enquirer readers are the
doings of television celebrities, cures for "in-
curable" diseases (arthritis and various cancers
are the biggies), and simply all the visions of
America's top "psychic" experts.
Celebrity stories are Pope's bread and butter, and
each week's issue is splashed with the face or faces
of well-known personalities who have something in-
teresting about them. In this regard, the Enquirer is
hardly different from People Magazine (which sells
for 75 cents vs. 40 cents for the Enquirer, and enjoys
a much more friendly reputation) or any other
publication capitalizing on the national
A separate Los Angeles bureau is maintained
almost for the sole purpose of chasing movie screen
personalities, and the reporters consider these ar-
ticles to be some of the very hardest to do. "If it
comes down to it and you've got to sleep with
someone in order to get a story, you're supposed to
do it," says a female reporter. "Everything rides on
the story."
The "facts" are gathered from certain "in-
siders," generally friends of the big wigs in
question, who are bribed, lied to, or plied with
alcohol to get them to talk. Some of the best "celeb"
stories come from Enquirer freelance reporters
(their pay per article is often outrageously high)
who DO NOT have to identify themselves as
Enquirer reporters.
"As our reputation gets worse in Hollywood, it
gets to be that only freelancers have a chance at
getting the interviews," lamented a staffer. "We
spend a lot of time in the office on government
waste and medical stories."
The stories on miracle cures and fabulous new
vitamin treatments are started the way every other
Enquirer story is started. Somewhere, someone
comes up with a tidbit of information that is tran-
smitted to Enquirer in the form of a "lead." The
payoff for these leads-if they turn into stories-is
almost $1,000, and so staffers, freelancers, and the
reading audience all have their eyes open, looking
for eye-popping information of any sort that might
be turned into a story.
Once the lead is accepted in a medical story, the
reporter gets on the telephone and gathers all the in-
formation possible from his primary source, say,
the doctor who has "discovered" something and
reported such in a journal. Once everything is un-
derstood from this one doctor, the reporter then
must find at least two other doctors who will sub-
stantiate the claim of the first doctor. It doesn't
matter how many doctors disagree with the first
doctor. There can be hundreds, but THE WHOLE
The final version of the story will present just the
positive side of the issue, with no caveats.
Speaking to the Miami Herald, Enquirer editor
lain Calder said these medical stories do not
provide balanced accounts or debates between ex-
perts because "that will confuse the reader."
In an effort to put everything on the bottom shelf
for the evidently easily-confused readers (an
Enquirer publicist reportedly once conceded that
the paper was intended for "the 12-year-old mind in
the body of a 35-to-40 year old housewife), the year
is demarcated by the periodic predictions of the
Enquirer's staff of psychic experts. These predic-
tions are not strictly "upbeat," but they do dwell
heavily on celebrities and interesting natural
disasters (Enquirer readers must love disasters.

The paper has a special reporter who goes to the site
of every major earthquake and locates the person
who has survived the longest trapped under the
most debris).
"The Enquirer has made me a very famous lady,
and I'm very proud of it," says Mickie Dahne, who
claims to be the Enquirer's leading psychic. "I love
(Gene Pope). He's the most misunderstood person
Dahne-who predicted Elvis Presley's trouble
with drugs, but not his death, though she insists
otherwise-claims 99 per cent accuracy in her


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Photo by Editor and Publisher Magazine
Ruth Annon, chief of research for the National
Enquirer, checks a story with Priscilla Badger,
deputy chief.
prognostications, even though many of them are
couched in extremely vague terms. ("We will hear.
from Spiro Agnew again; I see trouble for Jackie
Gleason"). She seems to be much less accurate in
her specific predictions (Examples from Feb. 1976:
Patty Hearst will break out of prison; Barbara
Walters will leave TV; Johnny Carson will retire
sometime this summer").
The accuracy of these predictions doesn't seem to
be important to readers as much as the comforting
idea that someone seems to be watching over the
future. Says Dahne, "The predictions spice up
people's lives."
And spicing up people's lives has been refined in
the grandest tradition of British journalism, where
the tabloid newspaper splashed with dirt has
reached a state-of-the-art form. Dig and scratch
reportage is a native art form for the British, and
the Enquirer staff is riddled with them. They ap-
pear to enjoy the high living of an American tabloid
newspaper reporter, and seem to be less bothered
with problems of journalistic integrity than their
American counterparts.
"I learned a lot from the British," says an
anonymous reporter. "They are exceptionally
smooth interviewers: Really jolly, calling everyone
'love' and making friends with their subjects. They
can talk people's pants off."
So confident of their consummate interviewing
skills are some of the "Brits," reports- another in-
sider, that they will indulge in the practice of "pre-
writing a story. This involves deciding exactly what
the subjects ought to say to make a piece juicy
enough for the Enquirer, and then not stopping until
those exact words are in the mouths of the subjects.
The American-side Enquirer staffers come from

all over, most of them enticed by the astronomical
salaries and the lure of huge traveling budgets. New
recruits are drawn to Lantana through the Whiz-
Kids program, in which college graduates (not
usually with any particular bent toward journalism)
are hired and given accommodations, a salary of
more than $500 a week, and three months to prove
The job, reporters say, is just barely worth the
overwhelming salaries they are paid. Recruits are
often seen slipping off to the bathroom to cry, and
staffers talk of Enquirer employees who-like
professional athletes before big games-vomit
regularly to relieve the excessive tension.
The result of working hard is an understandable
tendency to play hard, and Enquirer reporters,
quite rich early in their careers, tend to develop
rather decadent lifestyles and drive heavily when
off the job. As they become accustomed to the high
life and acquire mortgages and families, the
pressure to produce becomes greater and greater.
The man chiefly responsible for this dread is the
man who holds the pursestrings, owner Gene Pope.
He purchased the Enquirer in 1952 when it was the
New York Enquirer and had a circulation of a little
better than 17,000. A former agent of the Central In-
telligence Agency's psychological warfare office
and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology
graduate, Pope turned the Enquirer into a seamy,
excessive rag that barely topped the one million
circulation mark into the late sixties.
At that time, Pope realized that he might do bet-
ter to pattern his publication after the early
Reader's Digest: Upbeat articles aimed at the mid-
dle class. Circulation took off, and in 1971, Pope
moved his headquarters to Florida where he hoped
the good life would attract top editorial talent.
In fact, former newspeople from UPI, ABC News,
Time, and top British publications help Pope run his
paper, although the circulation has leveled off at just
under 6 million (more than any other weekly except
TV Guide). Many reporters, uncomfortable with the
journalistic methods of their employer, justify their
tenure on the Enquirer by the comfortable climate
in which they are allowed to reside.
Still, the Enquirer's reputation for journalistic
sleaze remained practically unmatched in this
country as late as 1976. In December of that year a
story ran from a freelance reporter claiming that
Walter Cronkite said he believed in UFOs. After
Cronkite made public statements damning the
Enquirer's stories as a total lie from beginning to
end, Pope decreed that all future interviews had to
be tape recorded.
The painstaking scrutiny that the Enquirer now
gives every story costs them more than $2 million
every year, and is the bane of every reporter who
would like to fudge just one or two facts to make the
editors happy. Reporters admit, though, that
despite the frustrations, the attention they pay to
detail makes them much better at careful research.
"Those who think the Enquirer is full of lies and
terrible things probably don't read it," says a staff
reporter in Lantana. "We may shift things around
in funny ways, but everything is true, and we never
harass the little guy. All the human interest stories
are done quite fairly and honestly. It's -the
celebrities we're after. They're who people want to
read about.
"In a way I'm sick of apologizing for working at
the Enquirer," he concluded. "We just entertain
people and give them what they want. There's
nothing wrong with giving people what they want.
It's like a restaurant. You wouldn't go into a
restaurant if all it served were beets and rutabaga,
would you?"


l I


Owen Gleiberman

Elizabeth Slowik

Associate editor
Elsa Isaacson

Supplement to The Michiggn Daily

Ann Arbor, Michigan-Sunday, November 4, 1979

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