Saturday, August 23, 2008

Irony, Thy Name is National Enquirer

Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

I've always had a healthy disrespect for tabloids. In fact, throughout my college years, when I was ensconced in my studies of media and journalism, I considered the term "tabloid journalism" an oxymoron. Boy, is my face red. But, not so red as is the Gray Lady's, I should think. She's now playing catch up on news her editors did not think "fit to print."

Scandal has turned Mr. Edwards into a pathetic has-been. It's had much the same effect on the news bosses at the mainstream media, who used to be the gatekeepers for all things fit to print. When the Enquirer broke the story months ago – while Mr. Edwards was still in the race – they treated it like poison ivy. “Classically not a Times-like story,” sniffed Craig Whitney, the standards editor of The New York Times. This was the same paper, you may recall, that recently ran an innuendo-laden story on John McCain and his friendship with an attractive lobbyist a decade or so ago. No wonder critics accuse the MSM of double standards – one for Democrats, and another for Republicans.

Indeed, the Enquirer turned up its nose at McCain non-story. It would seem, wisely so. This and other revelations from The New Republic -- they, of the Stephen Glass debacle. That The National Enquirer is burying the bona fide press corps in the sack, is shaping up to be the story of the year.

Normally, in the pitched tabloid battle for exclusives, losing a competitive bombshell like the McCain scandal would send Perel into fits. Not this time. Five Enquirer reporters had spent more than a month in 2007 chasing down the same rumors but failed to uncover any documentary evidence. "I wouldn't have run that piece, there was nothing in it," Perel told me recently about the Times story, which received widespread criticism when it ran. "It was filled with innuendo. . . . When you're done reading it, you're like, there's no there there."

My first intimation that the Enquirer might just be a force to reckoned with came while I was watching a documentary on the O.J. Simpson trial. (No. It did not come during the actual trial; a story which became so burdensome, day after day, that I extended great effort to tune it out.) But, I was somewhat taken aback to hear more legitimate reporters speak in respectful terms about the quality reporting the Enquirer did on O.J. While other reporters were beating minutiae to death, the Enquirer was willing to get dirty, and in doing so, kept breaking the big stories. They became the go to source during that scandal.

In fact, the barbarians have been at the gates ever since the O. J. Simpson trial, which turned out to be a cultural and racial event of immense significance. The MSM couldn't bear to dumpster-dive into the lurid details, even as an insatiable public gobbled them up. That was when they began to lose their grip on deciding what is news. With the explosion of the blogosphere, their power is gone for good.

It seems that while many of the major media brokers are busy chasing headlines, Enquirer reporters are chasing actual stories. I speak not of the kinds of stories they do, but of the way they do their reporting. Like it or not they are doing actual investigative journalism -- something the TNR piece makes clear -- while far too many so-called reporters are writing stories from press releases and proving to be knee-pad wearing whores for the same unreliable sources, again and again.

New York Times "Reporter" Judith Miller
photo: Kevin Wolf AP

Nowhere has the whoredom of mainstream press been more evident than with the media circus over VP selection. Massive resources have been allocated for reporters to camp out on lawns and whip themselves, and, sadly, the public, into a frenzy over something that we were all going to find out anyway. Why is it so important to get a story first, when no one, but no one, will give a shit two weeks from now who "broke" the "Biden is the VP pick" story? The only thing mildly interesting in this woeful display has been watching some bloggers and reporters step on their cranks, in their haste to "get it first."

What is more important? Getting it first, or getting it right?

Perhaps the paper of record will be able to reestablish its cred with the newest investigation into John Edwards's smarminess. This they will do by retracing some of the source material for their successful reportage into Eliot Spitzer's smarminess. I hope it pans out for their sake, if not for Elizabeth Edwards's.


leany said...

The irony is, the only racist in the article was the woman who wrote it. The issue of race and American Idol has reached an all new level of nuttiness. Every time an underdog is not voted out on American Idol somebody calls it racism.