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Mar. 8 2010 - 4:55 am | 728 views | 3 recommendations | 6 comments

Is The National Enquirer good, or is the mainstream media very bad?

Stephanie Clifford makes the argument that The National Enquirer has risen to the level of Journalistic Credibility since the tabloid has now been nominated for a Pulitzer in honor of its coverage of the John Edwards affair.

Barry Levine, the Enquirer’s executive editor in New York, describes the Eureka moment when he realized his publication was sitting on top of a big story.

Mr. Levine was intrigued when he looked up Mr. Edwards on Google and found a poll saying that the candidate and his wife, Elizabeth, had one of the most admired marriages of all the candidates.

That meant Mr. Edwards was on a pedestal, and revelations of an affair could knock him off it — in line with The Enquirer’s mission. “It still shows the reader that wealthy people, rich people, people who they may admire — when you take away the money, have the same types of problems that they have in real life,” he said.

So this kind of gossip-oriented hit piece is what the Times’s Clifford thinks “earns” a publication “some credit” in the world of mainstream journalism.

That makes sense considering how the media collectively jerked it to the scribblings in Game Change, the book written by high school cafeteria stenographers John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. This was a book about politics for people with no interest in politics, but tons of interest in petty gossip.

If you’re interested in the corporate takeover of American politics, or government corruption, or journalism, Game Change may not be the right book for you. But if you’re interested in reading about a hysterical, cancer-ridden Elizabeth Edwards confronting her adulterous husband in a parking lot, and tearing her blouse off during the frenzy, then read on.

If one considers that the Times’s Michiko Kakutani describes Game Change as serving up “a spicy smorgasbord of observations, revelations and allegations,” then it becomes easier to understand how the Times thinks the Enquirer was doing solid journalistic work in outing John Edwards even though he was no longer a presidential candidate, or holding any kind of public office when the story broke.

Kakutani goes on to admit that some of those “spicy observations” are based on journalist-like legwork, while others “simply crystallize rumors and whispers from the campaign trail,” and some are “hard to verify independently as more than spin or speculation on the part of unnamed sources.”

But nevermind. Journalmalism is sure fun to read!

Clifford makes the argument that there is “strong support” for the Enquirer bid from other publications and journalists. Those publications include Newsweek AKA The People Who Can’t Define ‘Terrorism,’ Politicsdaily.com (who?), and the Times’s own spiritual advisor, Ross Douthat. It’s like Newsweek senior writer Steve Tuttle says, “If Hitler is, indeed, still alive and living in Argentina, and their reporting proves it, why shouldn’t they be honored?”


In fairness to the Enquirer, the Edwards story was certainly an impressive catch for a tabloid magazine. However, that doesn’t suddenly mean the Enquirer had joined the ranks of Serious Media. They’re still a gutter-dredging rag that publishes celebrity gossip and outright lies.

Erm, of course, the mainstream media led the parade into Iraq, constantly uses anonymous sources, and obsesses over Tiger Woods like he’s a close, personal relative.

(At one point in the article, in a rare moment of “thoughtful” dissent, Clifford scoffs that the Enquirer, “ran pieces based entirely on anonymous sources.” Outrageous! Certainly, the Times would never do that, right?)

If anything, the mainstream media has begun to resemble the Enquirer, and not the other way around. This means the standards for solid journalism are now so low that the Enquirer — of all godforsaken publications — has been nominated for a Pulitzer.

Clifford did get one thing right: the Times and the Enquirer do have tons in common. Only, not in a good way.


6 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Anyone looking for a touchstone for the decline and fall of the mainstream media could do worse than pointing to the Enquire’s Pulitzer nomination. As for Game Change, it’s hard to know where to begin criticizing this pean to salacious trivia.

  2. collapse expand

    Generalizing about the quality of reporting in the “mainstream media”–whatever that term means–makes no sense to me. Every day, “mainstream” newspapers and magazines and television stations/networks and radio news operations and online only outlets produce excellent journalism, shoddy journalism, and much in between.

    As for the National Enquirer, one-time consideration for an annual prize is insignificant. The National Enquirer demonstrates pretty much consistent performance–an occasional fine piece of journalism mixed with nearly impossible-to- document “stories,” a word with lots of shadings.

    Lots of the commentary regarding the National Enquirer’s Edwards coverage amounts to much ado about nothing major.

    • collapse expand

      “Every day, “mainstream” newspapers and magazines and television stations/networks and radio news operations and online only outlets produce excellent journalism, shoddy journalism, and much in between.”

      Here, I’ll help you Steve.

      Mainstream media:
      CNN, MSNBC, FOX, NY Times, etc.
      (corporate news)

      Real Journalism:
      Huffington Post, Alternet, Democracy Now, etc.

      The “generalization” that what the mainstream media produces is largely garbage is very, very accurate. How do we define what’s useful and what’s not?

      Real journalism informs American cititzens about substantial matters. Issues that are important to the health of our democracy. Issues the people ought to know about. Issues of justice, liberty, and equality. Not who got killed today. Not the latest Celebrity scandal. Certainly not outright corporate propaganda.

      That clear things up?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      And I apologize if my previous comment sounded rude or saracstic. Let it be known that I’m actually a big fan of your writing on our flawed justice system.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Unfortunately, good journalism is the exception to the rule rather than the standard. You’re right that you can point to good work within traditional media (McClatchy and David Barstow come to mind as a couple examples,) but these kinds of pure acts of journalism are exceedingly rare. More often, the press acts as a mouthpiece for government propaganda, and unthinkingly disseminates The Official Position.

      Especially when examining the top echelons of traditional media, it becomes clear that the media’s new roll is to cozy up to the political elite. Bloggers call this the “Villager” mentality. Here’s just one quick example using Liz Cheney as a model of the political elite:

      Fox is a regular pulpit, of course, but Liz is also all over NBC, where she happens to be social friends with Meet the Press host David Gregory (whose wife worked with Liz ’s husband at the law firm Latham & Watkins), family friends with Justice Department reporter Pete Williams (Dick Cheney’s press aide when he was secretary of Defense), and neighborhood friends with Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, daughter of Carter-administration national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Mika criticized Dick Cheney on her show last year, the former vice-president sent her a box of chocolate cupcakes.


      Liz’s friends say she sets the bar for all-American normality: She watches Mad Men and 24 on TV, drives an SUV, attends Girl Scout meetings, and is frequently spotted on the sidelines of soccer fields, trading gossip with people like Terry McAuliffe, Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler, and other power players whose kids go to the Country Day School or the Potomac School.


      Obviously, “the media” is a complex beast with many different participants and players, but as a whole, the quality of good journalism has faltered over the past couple decades, culminating with the media’s gross failures in the months leading up to the beginning of the Iraq war. And then you can get into all kinds of fun topics like the media’s obsession with celebrity, and sex, but there are only so many hours in the day (and I’m still recovering from the flu… :) )

      As for the National Enquirer, one-time consideration for an annual prize is insignificant.

      I actually agree. I was responding to Clifford’s article, which seems to make the argument that this one-time nomination somehow means TNE has risen to some kind of standard of Journalism Greatness.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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