As Keeping Tabs crankily noted in a previous offering, the last batch of tabloids delivered a wholly underwhelming amount of dirt. So it was with great interest that she happened upon a story in this month's American Journalism Review that raised the intriguing possibility that the tabs might actually be trying to retract their claws. The respected media journal reports that in a bid to revive their flagging circulation, the tabs are undergoing a calculated image overhaul aimed at attaining—say it ain't so!—respectability. Could the tabs as we know them soon be a thing of the past?
According to AJR, American Media—which publishes the Globe, Star, and National Enquirer, among others—has embarked on a $62 million ad campaign to "recast" the tabs into "something that readers want to buy and job-seeking journalists want to buy into. No more grainy photos. No more autopsy photos or shots that exploit children. And no more cheesy ads peddling cure-all remedies." CEO David Pecker, the story says, "hopes to bring an era of respect to the National Enquirer and Star" and "sell the unvarnished truth in the Globe." The campaign touts the Enquirer as "a credible, newsy publication and the Star as a respectable celebrity watcher."
Unvarnished truth? Respect? Credibility? Don't worry. If the most recent tabs are any indication of how the overhaul is going, American Media should ask for its money back. While it's true that the tabs may have dialed back a teensy bit, they're hardly Time and Newsweek—or even People—yet. Let's just begin with a random sampling: In last week's Globe, noted gossip columnist-cum-political scribe Charlene Tilton, who cut her journalistic teeth playing Lucy Ewing on Dallas, reported that director Rob Reiner is being "seriously considered" for a Cabinet post in a future Gore administration. The Star has a story on the "erotic secrets" of Chelsea Clinton's 20–year-old boyfriend, and the Enquirer has a step-by-step reconstruction of how Ellen DeGeneres ran into her new ex, Anne Heche, on the street, rendered with the kind of painstaking detail usually reserved for journalistic explication of complex gene-therapy procedures.
And while the last two weeks of tabs have indeed been free of autopsy and child-exploitation photos, rest assured that grainy shots abound. In fact, there's one of "fat" Lisa Marie Presley right on the cover of last week's Globe. "No cheesy ads for cure-all remedies"? Well, they might not be cure-alls, but the tabs have no qualms whatsoever about hawking the kind of weight-loss products that make rock-solid claims such as "the active ingredients in the asparagus capsule cause the congested fat cells to empty themselves and the fat and waste to be expelled from the body." Skeptical? Don't be. The Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet—a "special formulation of all-natural fruits and juices"—has been rigorously tested … in "a clinical trial involving 10 volunteers"!
Keeping Tabs has long wanted to venture into the curious world of tabloid advertising, which is an art form unto itself, even mirroring the favorite editorial practice of quoting "experts" of highly dubious credentials. A Globe ad for the "Vinegar Weight Loss Plan," for example, boasts that the diet was created by "noted vinegar authority Emily Thacker." An ad for Redu-Quick weight-loss capsules (they "soak up fat") claims they were created by none other than the esteemed Dr.—No First Name—Jackish, M.D. (He's wearing a stethoscope in the photo. Good enough for us!) The Enquirer's ad for The Liver Cleansing Diet Book and the accompanying, ominously named "Livatone" capsules credit Sandra Cabot, M.D., who is said to be "internationally famous for her research on the liver." Just for fun, Keeping Tabs checked National Library of Medicine's "PubMed" database of 11 million articles from 4,300 medical journals, but could not find any articles about the liver by an S. Cabot. Dr. Jackish apparently isn't much for writing, either.
But we digress. Perhaps the most intriguing David Pecker pronouncement to AJR was his high-minded assertion that "what tabloids really stand for is to expose the hypocrisy of the rich and famous." Keeping Tabs tried hard to find evidence of said exposure of hypocrisy, to no avail, unless you count the Globe's story about the video of a possibly intoxicated George W. Bush—a story that actually credits Slate's reporting. Actually, best we can tell, what current tabs really stand for is to expose what the rich and famous are eating. The Star has a detailed account—with photos—of just what happened when some members of 'N Sync went shopping at a New York City grocery store: "Justin made sure he had enough of his favorite sandwich spread (Miracle Whip), saltine crackers, potato chips and canned soups—and a big jar of cashews for galpal Britney Spears." The highlight of the gastronomic reporting would have to be the Star's creepy exegesis of the contents of the late Dodi Fayed's refrigerator, which has remained untouched since his death. "Amid soft drinks and other tasty treats sits a bottle of champagne"—helpfully enclosed in a trademark red circle—"which will never be popped to toast Diana and Dodi's engagement." (Don't even get us started on the crackers that the EZ Cheez will never top and the French fries that will never be graced by that bottle of Heinz ketchup.) The rest of the apartment gets similar treatment: "Signs of their domestic bliss litter the luxuriously appointed home. Boxes of Kleenex tissues were at hand to wipe away Diana's tears when the loving pair watched romantic movies." Keeping Tabs even tried to take the Star's "Foods in your fridge reveal a lot about you" quiz, but found herself flummoxed by the choices: "Your freezer is packed with a) Meat b) Cheesy dishes like lasagna." Um, neither?
Jennifer Aniston's freezer is apparently stocked these days. According to the Globe, the new Mrs. Brad Pitt is on an "eating binge" in hopes of increasing her chances of starting a family. (You weren't fooled by that "Baby for Brad and Jennifer" headline over a photo of Aniston holding an infant, were you? That would be a friend's child.) "I'm going to get fat, happy—and hopefully pregnant," Jennifer supposedly told co-star Lisa Kudrow. "Brad says he's ready to start eating big meals with me. So, now I'm getting out all the recipes for my favorite foods." As indicated by the aforementioned grainy photos, Lisa Marie Presley is said to have been doing much the same, having "packed on 25 pounds" after "abandon[ing] her alfalfa sprouts and herbs" for "fatty soul food like pork and collard greens." During a recent Hawaiian vacation, she eschewed her usual menu of "fruit, vegetables and diet drinks" and "actually ate hamburgers and French fries with her kids." Beware, Ms. Aniston. Plastic surgeon Dr. Bruce Nadler warns that "like many women who let themselves go after they have children, Lisa Marie has put weight on her stomach, hips and thighs."
A friend of Sen. Ted Kennedy, meanwhile, tells the Enquirer that the senator, said to be topping the scale at over 300 pounds, has "gotten so heavy he looks like a heart attack waiting to happen," while over at the Star they're concerned about The View's Star Jones, said to be topping out around 240. Not so Marie Osmond's husband, Brian Blosil, whose 300-plus-pound girth was reportedly part of the reason for their recent breakup, according to both the Globe and the Star. "Now she's taken him back—because he's lost a ton of weight," asserts the Globe. Hmmmm. Those asparagus capsules really do work! And that's the unvarnished truth.