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Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Feb 18, 2020
Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer

Mark Landsman's excellent documentary "Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer" makes for depressing viewing. As Landsman details the rise and fall of the tabloid paper, he reminds us how the obnoxious and self-serving Trump was one of the main instigators of the whole 'fake news' syndrome, decades before he squirmed his way into the White House.

The story of The National Enquirer starts back in the 1950s, with a hefty loan from the Mafia to Generoso Pope, Jr. (allegedly one of their own), a very scary individual who ran the tabloid with an iron fist. Pope recruited most of his journalists from Britain, as they were much more ruthless than their American counterparts and were used to playing dirty to get a story.

Pope's first major editorial decision was having the Enquirer focus on bloody stories with front-page images of bodies destroyed in car accidents or by bullets.  Then, when he perceived that families were moving to the suburbs where there were no corner newsstands, he negotiated a deal to have the Enquirer placed at the cash register of every grocery store. 

For this he had to change his editorial tack, as no one would want to see all that gore when shopping for food, so he focused on suburban wives, sleazy celebrity stories, and ridiculous UFOs, but it paid off bigtime as circulation soared.

Pope was happy to pay out exorbitant sums of money to get the best stories, and the ex-journalists interviewed for the film testified about the ridiculous unlimited expenses they had, and the seemingly endless funds to pay out to the whole web of informers that they cultivated.

Some didn't need paying, as in even in the 1980s Trump would phone in stories about himself, often a few times a day. Sometimes he would try and disguise his voice, and other times he didn't even bother. He was rewarded for this when The National Enquirer was later owned by American Media, whose CEO was the desperate-to-be-a-celebrity David Pecker, who bought up scandalous stories about Trump and then buried them.

In fairness to Pecker, this practice had been going on at The Enquirer for years when they reached agreements with the likes of Bob Hope and Bill Cosby to suppress confirmed stories of their sexual infidelities in return for unfettered access to them for exclusive "happier" interviews.

Pecker, however, went one step further by having the paper actually endorse Trump for the President, the first time in its history that it backed a candidate. Not content with doing that, he also ran inflammatory negative stories about Trump's opponents like Ted Cruz, which were too bizarre to be believed by most people, but as both the candidate and Pecker had realized, Trump's supporters would  believe anything.

If there is a bright side to the all the scandals of the Enquirer, it has to be their exhaustive campaign to investigate the OJ Simpson case — they did actually uncover vital evidence that the police had overlooked. This proved to be enough for the family of victim Ronald Goldman to win their civil case against Simpson. Aside from that, there is nothing that can justify the actions of all these members of the media that were happy to take fat paychecks from an employer that showed them even less respect than the people that they pilloried each week 

The tabloid's decline can be pinpointed to the outpouring of vitriol aimed at the paparazzi after the accident that killed Princess Diana. The Enquirer wasn't involved in any way, but they began to bear the brunt of the public's anger at how the tabloid press can carelessly ruin lives.

For those of us (including this reviewer) who have always laughed at the ridiculous headlights that greet us in at the cash register and never even peeked inside, this film is a dispiriting eye-opener. The filmmakers were so right to bring this story to our attention, but it has left such a bitter taste in our mouths that will take some time to get rid of. Hopefully getting rid of Trump will be quicker.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.

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