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View Full Version : How does the National Enquirer and other tabloids get away with so much crap?


YogSothoth
02-20-2009, 02:05 PM
I know that even though these magazines have been sued before, it seems like with the sheer amount of lies they print they should be settling a lawsuit every week. Aren't there libel laws that would make any celebrity accused of falsehoods likely to win every case they bring? How do these tabloids earn any money? :confused:

I should say though that I do not read any of them and only occasionally glance at the headlines. Maybe someone who does read them can shed some light on this. Are the writings inside not as bad as the headlines make them seem?

dolphinboy
02-20-2009, 02:12 PM
Short answer... freedom of speech. If you don't like what they write about you, sue them.

Doug Bowe
02-20-2009, 02:21 PM
You may be equating the National Enquirer with the other Supermarket tabloids.

Quite a while back the Enquirer moved pretty much away from the sensational and gross ("Boy Cuts Off Foot And Eats It!") and turned the weekly into more of a show-business kiss-and-tell rag.

I didn't pay the Enquirer much attention until the organizations like the Associated Press admitted that the weekly paper outscooped them at the Simpson trial. Later analysis reveiled why...the trial was basically in the Enquirer's back yard, Hollywood. That's where hairdressers, maids, yard workers and other servers of the stars know they can pick up bucks if they overhear something juicy.

That's one reason John Edwards did a real stupid thing by having a portioin of his affair in a Beverly Hills hotel. Why not just send the Enquirer a telegram and get it over with? Come to think of it, that's basically what he did.

Agent Foxtrot
02-20-2009, 03:19 PM
Additionally, it's better for a celebrity to just ignore the allegations, regardless of their veracity. By suing the tabloids, you'll be generating good PR for them and bad PR for yourself, and will only look like you're trying to hide something.

RealityChuck
02-20-2009, 03:30 PM
It's also very difficult for a celebrity to prove that the Enquirer not only printed something untrue, but also knew it was untrue. If a hairdresser reports some gossip to them, they can print it. If it's untrue, their defense is that they didn't know it was untrue, and the celebrity would have to prove they did.*

It's a daunting task, and I'm sure the Enquirer doesn't want to know the truth before they publish.

*Libel law for "public figures" is different than it is for you or me. We could sue and win by proving the allegations are false. Public figures need to go the extra step.

ftg
02-20-2009, 04:09 PM
Another "dark underbelly" aspect of tabloids is that they sometimes get some serious dirt on a celeb. Then they work out a deal. They print relatively minor stuff and the celeb keeps quiet. Sometimes the celeb is forced to provide private info. (Roseanne Barr claims she was blackmailed by a tabloid.)

There's also the philosophy that "as long as they spelled my name right...". Since other people in the business know the stories are unlikely to be true, no real damage done and headlines are headlines.

Tranquilis
02-20-2009, 04:30 PM
Aside from all the above answere, there are two more words:

"Weasel Words."

The various tabloids, if you ever bother to read the articles (and yes, for my sins', I've been short enough of reading material to sink that low on occasion), they're loaded with weasel words; "Informed sources say," "It's alleged," "Un-named source," "according to reports," and so on - Those words and phrases are so slippery you could lube all the cars in the Indy 500 with them, and still have enough left over to have a really fun party, come Saturday night. Proper phrasing of the various insinuations and assertions allows any halfway decent lawyer plenty of ease in levering the tabloids' collective butts out any legal crack they might get stuck in.

Tom Tildrum
02-20-2009, 06:20 PM
...the sheer amount of lies they print....

...I do not read any of them and only occasionally glance at the headlines.

This strikes me as a somewhat ironic basis on which to be criticizing someone else's depth of reporting and commitment to accuracy. :dubious:

YogSothoth
02-20-2009, 06:26 PM
This strikes me as a somewhat ironic basis on which to be criticizing someone else's depth of reporting and commitment to accuracy. :dubious:

Their stories are referenced elsewhere and debunked. Or, when the headline screams somebody is pregnant or divorcing, and years later that person is neither pregnant nor divorcing, it sorta undermines their credibility. Easiest still are picture purporting to show a person is a certain weight, then you see them on TV the next day and its nothing at all like the picture, you can draw your own conclusions then

Lungfish
02-20-2009, 07:34 PM
The reason the press in the US get away with what they write is due to NEW YORK TIMES CO. V. SULLIVAN, 376 U. S. 254 (1964) (http://supreme.justia.com/us/376/254/case.html). You need to prove actual malice:
that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.
According to lawdigest.uslegal.com (http://lawdigest.uslegal.com/tort-and-personal-injury-actions/libel-and-slander/7311/) to successfully sue them the plaintiff has to prove 4 things:
First, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a false and defamatory statement concerning the plain-tiff. Second, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made an unprivileged publication to a third party. Third, the plaintiff must prove that the publisher acted at least negligently in publishing the communication. Fourth, in some cases, the plaintiff must prove special damages.
Under English law it is the person who made the comments who has to prove that they are true: Basic Libel for Idiots (http://urban75.org/info/libel.html). This means that anyone who want to sue the US press for libel can do so in the UK. In the last few years this has been quite the thing to do: Celebrity libel cases doubled in past year, survey says (http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/public_law/article699229.ece). As a consequence of this label case in London: Libel and money - why British courts are choice of the world (http://timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1079807.ece), The State of New York passes law against 'libel tourists' (http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article3461623.ece). Earlier this week a bill called The Free Speech Protection Act was reintroduced in the US Senate to protect Americans from the label laws in England: US senators reintroduce bill to block 'libel tourism' (http://pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=43109&c=1)

billfish678
02-20-2009, 07:36 PM
This strikes me as a somewhat ironic basis on which to be criticizing someone else's depth of reporting and commitment to accuracy. :dubious:


When the headline is along the lines of "Elvis Presely's daughter having Bigfoot's love child", Enquiring minds really don't really need a more in depth analysis to go :rolleyes:

Exapno Mapcase
02-20-2009, 08:11 PM
When the headline is along the lines of "Elvis Presely's daughter having Bigfoot's love child", Enquiring minds really don't really need a more in depth analysis to go :rolleyes:

The only American tabloid that ran those articles was the Weekly World News and that was a humor magazine.

Real tabloids like the real Enquirer employ a network of informers among people who have contact with celebrities and get paid small amounts of money for info, gossip, pictures, and news. That stuff is mostly real and verifiable.

Headlines are designed like any magazine's headlines, to draw in readers. Like any other magazine, tabloid headlines overpromise. Some go way beyond normal puffery to the point of falsehood but the articles, as noted above, always have lots of qualifiers. Puffery, BTW, is a legal term for allowing statements like "World's greatest cheeseburger" without incurring false advertising charges.

It's way harder to make a case stick against a headline when the article is toeing the line. Only the most egregious articles would be fodder for lawsuits. That's why hardly any are filed and the vast majority get settled out of court.

Shagnasty
02-21-2009, 02:18 PM
The National Enquirer is scummy and sensational but very rarely false plain and simple. They just have a unique journalism style and a very large budget for photos and leads. OTOH, Bat Boy just doesn't have the fund to sue the Weekly World News and, while Abraham Lincoln probably was a woman, the estate isn't interested in suing them either. There is a whole group of rags in between those two extremes that probably attract more legal attention.

GusNSpot
02-21-2009, 03:52 PM
Carrol Burnett sued and won... big time... It can be done but you gotta really want to. She did.

Angel of Doubt
02-21-2009, 05:16 PM
It's also very difficult for a celebrity to prove that the Enquirer not only printed something untrue, but also knew it was untrue. If a hairdresser reports some gossip to them, they can print it. If it's untrue, their defense is that they didn't know it was untrue, and the celebrity would have to prove they did.*

It's a daunting task, and I'm sure the Enquirer doesn't want to know the truth before they publish.

*Libel law for "public figures" is different than it is for you or me. We could sue and win by proving the allegations are false. Public figures need to go the extra step.

Many years ago I sold a small story (a paragraph's worth) to the NE. The reporter indicated it would be checked out before printing. I have no connection to the media business, or celebrities. BTW, the NE staff was very polite and sent the check quickly.

anson2995
02-21-2009, 09:48 PM
The Enquirer publishes dirt -- they broke the stories about Sarah Palin's daughter being pregnant, John Edwards' affair, Jesse Jackson's love child, Rush Limbaugh's drag addiction, and Monica Lewinsky's stained blue dress, among others -- but despite what the OP and others have suggested, they don't just make stuff up. The same can't always be said of the NY Times, USA Today, or Washington Post, each of which have recently fired reporters for plagarizing and/or fabricating stories

I'm aware of only three successful libel lawsuits against the Enquirer, the most prominent being the one by Carol Burnett in 1981. The other two took place in England, by Cameron Diaz in 2005 and Kate Hudson in 2006. The Enquirer is not published in England, but in each case the actresses argued that the availability of the paper's website in the UK gave them jurisdiction, and the courts agreed. Both actresses prevailed, in part because British law does not include the malice clause that protects them in the US. After losing, the Enquirer blocked access to their sites by British and Irish readers.

kunilou
02-21-2009, 10:15 PM
Carrol Burnett sued and won... big time... It can be done but you gotta really want to. She did.

And the Burnett victory shows just how hard it is to successfully sue for libel.

In brief, the Enquirer had run an article that Burnett had been drunk in public. Because the article had been specific about the date and place:

1) Burnett was able to call witnesses who testified that she not only was stone cold sober but hadn't even been seen drinking at all. So she was able to prove the story was FALSE.

2) Because Burnett was able to provide so many witneeses that said the story was false, she was able to show that the paper had shown RECKLESS DISREGARD FOR THE TRUTH by not checking their story better.

3) Finally, Burnett had been open about alcoholism in her family and had said many times that was why she didn't drink, so she was able to prove the Enquirer story DAMAGED her personal and professional reputation.

Compare that to a story like "rumors have it that so-and-so's weight gain was actually a baby bump, and she dealt with it" and you can see why it's so hard for a public figure to sue for libel in the U.S.

MsRobyn
02-21-2009, 11:16 PM
A few years ago, I bought copies of all the major tabloids available at my supermarket checkout line. Once I got over the humiliation of having done so, I read them cover to cover.

One of the Enquirer's cover stories was about Kobe Bryant's accuser. One of her former friends came forward about the accuser's desire to sleep with a star. The qualifier was that said confession happened at a slumber party when both girls were 15 or so. That was the nugget of truth in the story that kept it from being outright libel. The rest was just build-up.

There's also a fair amount of gotcha journalism, and more than one reporter has gotten celebrity garbage off the curb to see what's in there.

Robin

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
02-21-2009, 11:38 PM
The Enquirer publishes dirt -- Rush Limbaugh's drag addiction, You mean like J. Edgar Hoover? You owe us all an apology for putting that in our heads.

I agree the short answer is freedom of speech. I despise and revile what they say, but I defend to the death their right to say it. Or something like that.

Then there's the fact that these papers are definitely accorded little if any credibility or respect. The amount of ice they cut being so small, I imagine the amount of damage they can usually do is minor.

Exapno Mapcase
02-21-2009, 11:47 PM
The Enquirer publishes dirt -- they broke the stories about Sarah Palin's daughter being pregnant, John Edwards' affair, Jesse Jackson's love child, Rush Limbaugh's drag addiction, and Monica Lewinsky's stained blue dress, among others -- but despite what the OP and others have suggested, they don't just make stuff up. The same can't always be said of the NY Times, USA Today, or Washington Post, each of which have recently fired reporters for plagarizing and/or fabricating stories

I'm aware of only three successful libel lawsuits against the Enquirer, the most prominent being the one by Carol Burnett in 1981. The other two took place in England, by Cameron Diaz in 2005 and Kate Hudson in 2006. The Enquirer is not published in England, but in each case the actresses argued that the availability of the paper's website in the UK gave them jurisdiction, and the courts agreed. Both actresses prevailed, in part because British law does not include the malice clause that protects them in the US. After losing, the Enquirer blocked access to their sites by British and Irish readers.

You're making the assumption here that because so few libel suits have been successful that the tabloids must be correct.

Probably not. There have been numerous articles and books about the tabloid industry that state that they settle virtually all claims out of court. That gives them the facade of not losing, but the reality is that they are often wrong or over the line. They do get stories other papers don't but that's almost entirely because they are willing to pay for information and no mainstream news source in the U.S. does so. (I'm sure there have been a few exceptions and television "news" magazines have been run at times by the entertainment division so the rules are different. It's still true virtually all the time.)

The Enquirer is usually factual, but I would always wait for confirmation before believing them. The others are rarely factual, and they're the ones who regularly publish headlines on divorces and affairs and deaths and diseases that never come true. They do indeed make stuff up. Guaranteed.

Diogenes the Cynic
02-21-2009, 11:56 PM
The big safety valve for tabloids like the Enquirer is that they often avoid making a direct, factual assertion and rely on "sources say..." It doesn't have to be true that Richard Gere got an abortion, it only has to be true that some one told them he did.

I also think that a great deal of what's in those tabloids is true, or pretty close to it. They don't just completely fabricate anything. They do either have a genuine source (a housekeeper, or limo driver, or studio PA) who told them they saw something, or sometimes the celebs feed them info themselves (Michael Jackson and Britney Spears are both reputed to have done this).

I remember once seeing Bijou Philips on Howard Stern amd she was saying "everything you see in the tabloids is true."

Well maybe not everything, but I think the majority of it is. That's probably another reason why celebs don't try to sue.

Walloon
02-22-2009, 12:55 AM
When the headline is along the lines of "Elvis Presely's daughter having Bigfoot's love child", Enquiring minds really don't really need a more in depth analysis to go :rolleyes:The Enquirer doesn't publish stories like that, and hasn't for decades. Where have you been?

Walloon
02-22-2009, 12:58 AM
The big safety valve for tabloids like the Enquirer is that they often avoid making a direct, factual assertion and rely on "sources say..." It doesn't have to be true that Richard Gere got an abortion, it only has to be true that some one told them he did.Actually, contrary to common belief, the "sources say" doesn't get you off the hook. You can still be found to have libeled someone if you were negligent in determining the reliability of the source(s).

Guinastasia
02-22-2009, 01:06 AM
You mean like J. Edgar Hoover? You owe us all an apology for putting that in our heads.



Think that's bad? Ever hear about why (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilonidal_cyst) he didn't serve in Vietnam? (NSFW)

Leaffan
02-22-2009, 01:26 AM
You know, with "normal" newspapers having a rough go at it lately, it amazes me that these tabloid rags can still exist at all. People are paying money to read about untruths regarding people they don't even know? WTF? I see these in the grocery store and it absolutely amazes me that people would buy and READ this shit. Get a fucking life people.

Tom Tildrum
02-22-2009, 02:45 AM
There have been numerous articles and books about the tabloid industry that state that they settle virtually all claims out of court.

Note that the NYT just settled Vicki Iseman's claim out of court.

The big safety valve for tabloids like the Enquirer is that they often avoid making a direct, factual assertion and rely on "sources say..."

Doesn't every newspaper do this? Although in the mainstream press I guess it's done more to protect the identity of sources.

You know, with "normal" newspapers having a rough go at it lately, it amazes me that these tabloid rags can still exist at all.

IIRC, the Enquirer has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the US. It's more than 2 1/2 times that of the NYT, for instance, although that doesn't include web traffic.

GoodOmens
02-22-2009, 07:29 AM
while Abraham Lincoln probably was a woman,

I'm gonna guess that's a typo, because otherwise you need to call the Enquirer right away...they'd pay big money for a story like that.

Exapno Mapcase
02-22-2009, 12:18 PM
IIRC, the Enquirer has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the US. It's more than 2 1/2 times that of the NYT, for instance, although that doesn't include web traffic.

Wrong in two ways. First, the tabloids function like magazines rather than newspapers. Their competition are the People and InStyle magazines that they're found with at supermarket checkout aisles, not newspapers. Second, the Enquirer's circulation is barely over 1 million and has been for years. It's on its last legs. Of course, that's true for almost all magazines. And newspapers.

anson2995
02-22-2009, 03:29 PM
You're making the assumption here that because so few libel suits have been successful that the tabloids must be correct.

Probably not. There have been numerous articles and books about the tabloid industry that state that they settle virtually all claims out of court. That gives them the facade of not losing, but the reality is that they are often wrong or over the line. They do get stories other papers don't but that's almost entirely because they are willing to pay for information and no mainstream news source in the U.S. does so. (I'm sure there have been a few exceptions and television "news" magazines have been run at times by the entertainment division so the rules are different. It's still true virtually all the time.).
I know that the Enquirer has settled many cases before they went to trial. The same can be said of the NY Times. The tone of this thread is that the Enquirer is at a polar opposite from "reputable" papers when it comes to journalistic integrity. My assertion is that they're much closer than people think. The major difference being the types of stories that they choose to cover, not the accuracy of their reporting.

Exapno Mapcase
02-22-2009, 05:12 PM
My assertion is that they're much closer than people think. The major difference being the types of stories that they choose to cover, not the accuracy of their reporting.

Fine. And my response is that this is a case of cynicism that approaches blindness. Being willing to pay for gossip, even accurate gossip, is not reporting. They are not playing in the same game. One is breaking par on a miniature golf course, the other is doing so on the PGA tour. There is no real comparison.

Markxxx
02-22-2009, 06:11 PM
Part of it is that a lot of it can be true as well.

Roseanne Barr was having a fit over the Enquirer until she found out husband to be Tom Arnold was the one selling stories to them. (He said he did it as they paid him and he liked to have money equal to Roseanne. This was BEFORE she married him)

Also celebrities don't want to air ALL their dirty laundry. Suppose I put a story saying "Actor John Smith did cocaine at a party last night." It may be very easy for John Smith to prove he wasn't at a party last night doing drugs.

BUT does he ever do drugs. Maybe he didn't do drugs last night, but if he IS doing cocaine, that may come out if he sues the Enquirer. And if it got out he was a druggie that would hurt his career. So it's best to say "Everything is a lie" and leave people guessing.

anson2995
02-22-2009, 06:50 PM
Fine. And my response is that this is a case of cynicism that approaches blindness. Being willing to pay for gossip, even accurate gossip, is not reporting. They are not playing in the same game. One is breaking par on a miniature golf course, the other is doing so on the PGA tour.
Sure, their methods are completely different, but the OP was asking about the accuracy of their stories. Has the Enquirer been sued for libel more often than the NY Times? Have they had more instances of blatant fabrication? I think the answer is no on both counts.

I'll join you all day long in criticizing the Enquirer's practice of paying for stories, because it creates an incentive for those sources to embellish or make stuff up. But you can't do that without acknowledging that papers like the Times often use sources with equally impure sources, such as the Vicki Iseman story or Judith Miller's reporting on Iraq. The motivations may be different, but the results are the same.

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