Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Respect for journalism.

In recent weeks, the Huffington Post has been semi-obsessed about the National Enquirer. They have published several stories about the tabloid being in the running for a Pulitzer based on their exclusive story about John Edwards, Rielle Hunter and their love child. Ross Douthat, the conservative who replace the late William Safire in the opinion department at The New York Times, wrote a piece saying the Enquirer earned the place at the table and even deserved to win. This week, the Times' Stephanie Clifford a hard news piece about the process the Enquirer used to get the John Edwards story, which included some actual shoe leather reporting instead of just paid sources, the tabloid's usual modus operandi.

I'm just a blogger and not a journalist. But I'm following the tabloids regularly now with the introduction of my other blog, and let me say with some authority that the National Enquirer is still a joke and deserves no respect from serious journalists.

Let me be specific. I won't confuse them will the silly Weekly World News or Globe or the National Examiner, all of which are published by the same company. The website for American Media, Inc. shows how dishonest the company is. They say they publish 16 magazines, but on their front page they only list 11. You have to do some clever clicking to find them admitting to publishing the completely unreliable stuff.

But again, let's just focus on the Enquirer, which I half jokingly refer to as The Flagship on the other blog. They have the same problems as all the other tabloids have to one degree or another, which is they publish lies. Their headlines regularly overstate or misstate the substance of their stories.

Many people gave the Enquirer credit for saying Michael Jackson had six months to live before he died, but they miss how often the paper makes those predictions and gets them wrong. The one mathy thing I'm going to do on my other blog is publish a list once a month of everybody who has been associated with a story saying either "xxx is dying" or "xxx's brave last days". As of this morning, there are 21 people who have had that honor so far this year, and all 21 are still alive. The people specific to the Enquirer are Marie Osmond (allegedly suicidal), Whitney Houston, Bill Clinton, Gary Coleman, Barbara Billingsley, Dennis Hopper and Loretta Lynn. Of the people on this list, Dennis Hopper is really ill and Barbara Billingsley is really old, over 90. Most of the rest spent some time in the hospital, and spending time in the hospital is reason enough for any of the tabs to say a person is dying.

Let's focus on the Enquirer's big scoop, the John Edwards' infidelity story. This week's headline says "John Edwards is going to jail!" In the actual story, the Enquirer says a grand jury is ready to charge Edwards with crimes relating to the coverup of his relationship with Rielle Hunter. This is exactly the kind of sloppiness that removes the Enquirer from the list of reliable sources. They push a possible indictment to certain time in the slammer, skipping those boring steps of the actual indictment, a trial ending in a conviction and a decision on sentencing. People who followed the Scooter Libby story will also recall that if they are doing their jobs correctly, anyone with actual decision making power in a grand jury is supposed to remain silent, though those called in to testify can say whatever they like.

Here's another example of why the Enquirer is still a joke and not a serious place for journalism. They reported a story late last month with the headline "Paula Deen's bitter divorce shocker!" I foolishly chose this story to be one of the last I put on my blog, leaving it for my Wednesday post, the last news of the tabloid week. It's been one of the most popular stories on Google searches of my blog ever since, so popular that I violated my prime directive and read the story, not just the headline. (There's been a lot of prime directive violation on my blog. Captain Kirk would be so proud of me.)

A lot of people wanted to know what was going on with the celebrity chef. The answer is... nothing, at least nothing much in the present. The gist of the story is that a few years back, Paula's new husband's adult daughter didn't get along with Paula and advised her dad not to marry. The story ends with Paula and the daughter reaching an understanding, but never was a divorce proceeding anywhere to be found. The first half of the sentence is true, it involved Paula Deen and there was some bitterness. But there was no divorce and the story isn't shocking.

Journalism isn't perfect. I've been involved marginally in stories reported in the press and I know they sometimes get facts wrong. But the people writing the headlines at real news sources have an obligation to tell the true story, not just go off on wild speculation of possible outcomes of verifiable present day events.

I'm keeping track of the tabloids so you don't have to. They are still lying scumbags. Entertaining lying scumbags, I'll grant you, but what they do is nothing like real journalism.

1 comment:

namastenancy said...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I no haz it for yellow journalism. Now I just need a LOL cat image.