Sunday, January 11, 2015

Is the National Enquirer Gaining Credibility?

Full disclosure:  I normally get my full share of celebrity gossip when I’m standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, and that’s only by reading the front page of a tabloid from about three feet away.

So like many, when I think of tabloids like the National Enquirer, I think of front pages with claims of UFO sightings, or Bigfoot, or celebrity diets, or gossip about the drama that goes on behind-the-scenes in Hollywood.  Like many, my feeling has always been how can you believe anything from such a publication?

Still, in recent years what some may not have noticed is that, along with those outrageous and oftentimes trivial stories that still populate the pages, the National Enquirer has also been the first to break some news stories that eventually make their way into the mainstream.

Here’s the common cycle when it comes to the tabloid and its breaking of major stories.  The National Enquirer somehow learns something about a famous person that may be newsworthy, and it verifies its facts.  Then it doggedly tracks and sometimes stalks the central figures in the story until in the end, it gets a more full story, warts and all. Sometimes the details appear so extreme they are hard to believe at first.  Then at some point, the story turns a corner.

It could be that when the initial story breaks in the National Enquirer, it’s so hard to believe that the traditional media just won’t bite.  Sometimes, however, it comes out that reporters from other more respected journalistic organizations did learn about certain stories around the same time as the National Enquirer, but for any number of reasons they decided not to pursue.

To be sure, there are instances when a National Enquirer story, aided by amplification on social media, actually pressures traditional media outlets to cover something.  Sometimes these stories have ramifications that go beyond Hollywood and gossip.   Sometimes political figures and respected journalists find themselves in the National Enquirer spotlight.

A classic case of this was when the National Enquirer broke the news that one-time presidential hopeful John Edwards had an extra-marital affair.

Then more recently, there was the story of CBS News and 60 Minutes stalwart Steve Kroft.   The National Enquirer first reported that the news man engaged in his own extra-marital affair, which led to the usual social media buzz, then traditional media coverage, and then Kroft himself acknowledging the situation with an apology.

What makes both of these situations relevant to the larger PR landscape is that the National Enquirer has at times emerged, if not consistently, as a credible source, willing to break stories that the traditional media did not. While some of these stories have their share of R-rated details, they also carry with them other ramifications.

Before the National Enquirer broke the John Edwards story, he had a viable political career and voters knew a very different man than the one who emerged after the story broke.

The Kroft situation is a little different.  Like Edwards, Kroft was reported to have engaged in a steamy extramarital affair that became public.  But Kroft remains a highly influential journalist.  This is the same reporter who built his reputation in some part as the reporter who in 1992 confronted then presidential candidate Bill Clinton over allegations of his womanizing.

The irony doesn’t stop there.  Perhaps the real irony is that the National Enquirer is using facts and the truth to enhance its credibility while public figures like Kroft lose some of their own standing in the same process.

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