Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 9/4/2008 [Archive]

Martha's Big Adventure - Enquiring Minds Want to Know

Martha's Big Adventure -- Enquiring Minds Want to Know

By Martha Randolph Carr

It has been noted that some mainstream media folks have acquired a bugaboo about tabloid news and in particular, the National Enquirer. There have been some dismissive comments made in their direction lately by a few prominent editors. This is despite the Enquirer breaking the story about Clinton and the infamous blue dress in the late 90's or the scoops out of the O. J. Simpson trial a decade earlier. Back then the Enquirer was referred to as 'the bible' for their coverage and other media sources were using them as a starting point to run down tips.

No one took the stories at face value. The reporters checked out the facts and built on them. That's usually how it works. Leads come in from all kinds of places with all kinds of pedigrees attached to them. The standard for what makes it into the mainstream has more to do with what can be verified, not where it originated. If that were true a lot of big stories never would have gotten off the ground.

But lately, the Enquirer's been getting dissed. David Perel, editor in chief at the tabloid says certain segments of the media have become very condescending. 'Sometimes one of the things new media is exposing about old media is how elitist they are,' said Perel. 'We trust our readers and give them the news they want instead of the news we think they should know.'

Now, even the founding fathers realized that if we stuck to that criterion we'd end up with just celebrity news and stock prices. There has to be a balance between information about how the country's being run and who's dating who in Hollywood. Perhaps citizens still pick who they vote for based on looks or just party affiliation but maybe a little bit about domestic policy or foreign affairs seeps in as well.

And in the middle sometimes there's a tabloid, like the Enquirer, which is celebrity-driven, that ends up serving a little of both. But unlike their rivals, People Magazine or Us, the Enquirer has been getting largely ignored.

The best example of this is the recent scandal involving former presidential candidate John Edwards and his affair with a member of his campaign staff while his wife is struggling with cancer.

The National Enquirer broke the story last year during Edwards' campaign for the Democratic nomination but no other major news source outside of North Carolina, his home state, picked it up. No one even checked it out to see if there were some verifiable facts surrounding Edwards. That's not typical journalistic behavior.

Gary Hart threw down the same kind of gauntlet as the Enquirer in the run-up to the 1988 presidential election by telling reporters to follow him around, they'd be bored and got caught carrying on aboard his boat, Monkey Business. It derailed his campaign and perhaps his career as a politician.

This time Edwards vehemently denied the affair, laying it at the feet of another staff member and almost everyone gave him a pass. That is except for the Enquirer, which checked out the story and came back with photos of Edwards in a hotel. Then the story slowly rolled out in other news sources.

Take note that when it was discovered that newly minted Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin has a pregnant teenage daughter, which she had already disclosed to McCain's handlers, the media was all over it. Pundits were charging at it from every side. Frankly, teen celebrity Jamie Lynn Spears recent pregnancy got far more coverage than Edwards dating policies.

Some say all of this is because the Enquirer is willing to pay for news tips, which they always have, but Perel notes that in their niche market of celebrity news even this has its journalistic advantages. 'We're not beholden to any special interest group,' says Perel. 'Sometimes we pay sources for stories as long as all the information checks out.' Other celebrity news sources, says Perel, rely heavily on publicists who they can't afford to anger and it ends up stilting coverage. 'We are unfettered.'

So, who is right? The old guard who decided we didn't need to know that one or the newer mouthy kid who said its news and laid it out there for us to decide? Sometimes, the hardest part about having any kind of national discussion can be when we aren't given all of the information at hand.

Martha Randolph Carr's latest book, A Place to Call Home, a memoir about the reemergence of U.S. orphanages is available wherever books are sold. If you'd like Martha to come and speak to your group visit: www.newvoicespeakers.com. Email Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com or visit www.martharandolphcarr.com.

© 2008 Martha Randolph Carr. Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email Sales@cagle.com. Download Martha Randolph Carr's black and white mug shot photo.

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