Stop the presses: The tabloids get something right!

A summary of what's been in the tabloids.
May 16 2002 2:28 PM

The Tabs Cry Wolf in Reverse

Why the tabs only need to get one story right every year.

National Enquirer

There's nothing quite so amusing in Tabloidland as the moments when the tabloids pat themselves on the back for correctly reporting a story. Since they traffic so overwhelmingly in innuendo and failed augury, the folks at American Media must feel that in those rare instances when they actually hit their target, they must throw a celebratory bone to their readers for sticking with them through it all. (Can you imagine, say, the New York Times running a self-congratulatory box to celebrate the news that one of its stories this week actually turned out to be correct?) This week's Enquirer, for instance, has a "You Read It Here First" sidebar trumpeting the fact that back at the end of March it ran a story about the pregnancy plans of Rosie O'Donnell's partner, Kelli Carpenter—a story that was apparently vigorously denied at the time by O'Donnell's spokeswoman. "Our story this week shows that at the time of the spokeswoman's denial, Kelli was ALREADY pregnant!" gloats the Enquirer. "So now you KNOW who to believe."

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Not so fast, buckaroos. Turns out the Enquirer didn't exactly know Kelli was "ALREADY pregnant!" either. Or at least they didn't say so. What the March story did say was that the pair had decided to have a child and had taken the "first steps for Kelli to get pregnant by consulting a lawyer to draw up legal papers that will make them co-parents of the new baby." There was no mention of an actual pregnancy, only talk that the couple was "hop[ing] to get Kelli pregnant sometime this year." (There was also a "You Read It Here First" sidebar alongside that story, by the way, pointing out that the Enquirer had known all along that Rosie was gay.) Keeping Tabs is going to be a stickler and award only half credit for the pregnancy story, since the timing of the reporting of their intentions could have been completely coincidental. In other words, had Carpenter turned up pregnant next December, the Enquirer would still no doubt be taking a bow. It's a scattershot approach, but it seems to be working for them.

It's an interesting peculiarity of tabloid journalism that the occasional exception somehow proves the rule: Much like the lottery system or the intermittent success of psychic mediums, the once-in-a-blue-moon tabloid bull's-eye is enough to justify the tabs' entire error-riddled existence. Somehow, if every so often a far-fetched or lurid tabloid story actually turns out to have a shred of accuracy, it lends every other story at least the patina of being potentially real. Therefore, at least according to the calculus of Tabloidland, it makes all tabloid stories worth reading, all the time. Readers seem ever willing to wade through the tabs' endless sea of preposterous allegations. And no one seems terribly perturbed—except KT, that is—by the tabs' laughably appalling success rate.

With a deep sigh, Keeping Tabs must therefore remind her readers that for a solid 18 months now the Globe has been reporting the imminent demise of Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage, to no avail. (Get up to speed here.) This week, the Enquirer takes up the flag with a huge "World Exclusive" cover story claiming that the former president may have fathered a son by his purported longtime mistress, Dolly Kyle Browning, and that the revelation may finally deliver the death blow to the union. "This could destroy their marriage," affirms a source. "It's one thing for Bill to fool around with a misguided intern like Monica Lewinsky, but it's quite another for Hillary to have to deal with the possibility of a love child by a 54 year-old woman whom Bill has romanced since his high school days."

Keeping Tabs would like to personally congratulate Enquirer reporter Tony Brenna for inducing her to waste a good two or three minutes poring over the photos of Anthony Pearson, the child in question, eventually agreeing that he did have a certain vague resemblance to Clinton and that his baby photo did look a little like Chelsea's. Hmmmm. That was, of course, until she turned the page and saw the photos of Paul Pearson, Browning's ex-husband and Anthony's legal father, and realized that … he is the absolute spitting image of his son. Shocking, but true. Crisis over, tabloid fans. KT 1, Enquirer 0. (Oh, and just for the record, the story also has a "You Read It Here First" sidebar pointing out that the Enquirer reported Bill Clinton was in talks to have a TV show five months ago, which supposedly "just proves once again that where personality journalism is concerned, your favorite paper is way ahead of the pack.")

The Star focuses its scattershot predictive powers on Chelsea Clinton. Last week's cover story reported that Chelsea will be announcing her engagement next month to boyfriend Ian Klaus and that she is already knee-deep in planning a $1 million "fairytale" wedding for summer 2003. We'd be all ears, you know, and wrapping up a Waring blender for the happy couple, if not for the fact that we're still waiting for that December 2000 wedding (to Chelsea's former beau, Jeremy Kane) the Enquirer adamantly forecast back in October of that year. Similarly, we'd be happy to congratulate Oprah Winfrey on her upcoming wedding, as reported in last week's Enquirer (she and her longtime fiance Stedman Graham, in a burst of post-Sept. 11 clarity, are supposedly finally going to elope to the Caribbean), but we're feeling just a tad gun-shy. After a 10-year "engagement," we hope Oprah understands. A quick scan of the KT archives shows that in November 2000, for example, the Globe was telling us to "look to the new year for their long engagement to finally end—in a wedding." We'll send Oprah's blender along with the baby booties for Jennifer Aniston, who's erroneously been reported by the tabs to be pregnant for a good three years. (See one of the first tabloid mentions of an Aniston pregnancy here.)

And finally, Keeping Tabs will be the first to eat her hat if the Globe's recent assertion—that Chandra Levy was murdered because she threatened to blow the whistle on a "kinky sex club for Washington powerbrokers" called "The League of Gentlemen"—turns out to be as explosive as the Globe predicts. "The story is bigger than Watergate," says attorney Jim Robinson, who represents Gary Condit's onetime mistress Anne Marie Smith. "It's a scandal that will shake the U.S. government, leaving careers ruined and some very famous people facing some very serious charges." According to Robinson, Chandra's murder was ordered by "the governor of a large state" and a former member of Congress who was once a presidential candidate. "They know who they are and I know who they are," Robinson asserts. "By November's congressional election, everyone will know who they are."

Bigger than Watergate? OK, Jim, you're on. We'll check back in November. Oh, and on the one-in-a-million chance this whopper turns out to be true, just remember: You read it here first.

Jennifer Mendelsohn is a free-lance writer based in Baltimore. Visit her Web site at jennifermendelsohn.com.

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