How does the National Enquirer and other tabloids get away with so much crap?

I know that even though these magazines have been sued before, it seems like with the sheer amount of lies they print they should be settling a lawsuit every week. Aren’t there libel laws that would make any celebrity accused of falsehoods likely to win every case they bring? How do these tabloids earn any money? :confused:

I should say though that I do not read any of them and only occasionally glance at the headlines. Maybe someone who does read them can shed some light on this. Are the writings inside not as bad as the headlines make them seem?

Short answer… freedom of speech. If you don’t like what they write about you, sue them.

You may be equating the National Enquirer with the other Supermarket tabloids.

Quite a while back the Enquirer moved pretty much away from the sensational and gross (“Boy Cuts Off Foot And Eats It!”) and turned the weekly into more of a show-business kiss-and-tell rag.

I didn’t pay the Enquirer much attention until the organizations like the Associated Press admitted that the weekly paper outscooped them at the Simpson trial. Later analysis reveiled why…the trial was basically in the Enquirer’s back yard, Hollywood. That’s where hairdressers, maids, yard workers and other servers of the stars know they can pick up bucks if they overhear something juicy.

That’s one reason John Edwards did a real stupid thing by having a portioin of his affair in a Beverly Hills hotel. Why not just send the Enquirer a telegram and get it over with? Come to think of it, that’s basically what he did.

Additionally, it’s better for a celebrity to just ignore the allegations, regardless of their veracity. By suing the tabloids, you’ll be generating good PR for them and bad PR for yourself, and will only look like you’re trying to hide something.

It’s also very difficult for a celebrity to prove that the Enquirer not only printed something untrue, but also knew it was untrue. If a hairdresser reports some gossip to them, they can print it. If it’s untrue, their defense is that they didn’t know it was untrue, and the celebrity would have to prove they did.*

It’s a daunting task, and I’m sure the Enquirer doesn’t want to know the truth before they publish.

*Libel law for “public figures” is different than it is for you or me. We could sue and win by proving the allegations are false. Public figures need to go the extra step.

Another “dark underbelly” aspect of tabloids is that they sometimes get some serious dirt on a celeb. Then they work out a deal. They print relatively minor stuff and the celeb keeps quiet. Sometimes the celeb is forced to provide private info. (Roseanne Barr claims she was blackmailed by a tabloid.)

There’s also the philosophy that “as long as they spelled my name right…”. Since other people in the business know the stories are unlikely to be true, no real damage done and headlines are headlines.

Aside from all the above answere, there are two more words:

“Weasel Words.”

The various tabloids, if you ever bother to read the articles (and yes, for my sins’, I’ve been short enough of reading material to sink that low on occasion), they’re loaded with weasel words; “Informed sources say,” “It’s alleged,” “Un-named source,” “according to reports,” and so on - Those words and phrases are so slippery you could lube all the cars in the Indy 500 with them, and still have enough left over to have a really fun party, come Saturday night. Proper phrasing of the various insinuations and assertions allows any halfway decent lawyer plenty of ease in levering the tabloids’ collective butts out any legal crack they might get stuck in.

This strikes me as a somewhat ironic basis on which to be criticizing someone else’s depth of reporting and commitment to accuracy. :dubious:

Their stories are referenced elsewhere and debunked. Or, when the headline screams somebody is pregnant or divorcing, and years later that person is neither pregnant nor divorcing, it sorta undermines their credibility. Easiest still are picture purporting to show a person is a certain weight, then you see them on TV the next day and its nothing at all like the picture, you can draw your own conclusions then

The reason the press in the US get away with what they write is due to NEW YORK TIMES CO. V. SULLIVAN, 376 U. S. 254 (1964). You need to prove actual malice:

According to to successfully sue them the plaintiff has to prove 4 things:

Under English law it is the person who made the comments who has to prove that they are true: Basic Libel for Idiots. This means that anyone who want to sue the US press for libel can do so in the UK. In the last few years this has been quite the thing to do: Celebrity libel cases doubled in past year, survey says. As a consequence of this label case in London: Libel and money - why British courts are choice of the world, The State of New York passes law against ‘libel tourists’. Earlier this week a bill called The Free Speech Protection Act was reintroduced in the US Senate to protect Americans from the label laws in England: US senators reintroduce bill to block ‘libel tourism’

When the headline is along the lines of “Elvis Presely’s daughter having Bigfoot’s love child”, Enquiring minds really don’t really need a more in depth analysis to go :rolleyes:

The only American tabloid that ran those articles was the Weekly World News and that was a humor magazine.

Real tabloids like the real Enquirer employ a network of informers among people who have contact with celebrities and get paid small amounts of money for info, gossip, pictures, and news. That stuff is mostly real and verifiable.

Headlines are designed like any magazine’s headlines, to draw in readers. Like any other magazine, tabloid headlines overpromise. Some go way beyond normal puffery to the point of falsehood but the articles, as noted above, always have lots of qualifiers. Puffery, BTW, is a legal term for allowing statements like “World’s greatest cheeseburger” without incurring false advertising charges.

It’s way harder to make a case stick against a headline when the article is toeing the line. Only the most egregious articles would be fodder for lawsuits. That’s why hardly any are filed and the vast majority get settled out of court.

The National Enquirer is scummy and sensational but very rarely false plain and simple. They just have a unique journalism style and a very large budget for photos and leads. OTOH, Bat Boy just doesn’t have the fund to sue the Weekly World News and, while Abraham Lincoln probably was a woman, the estate isn’t interested in suing them either. There is a whole group of rags in between those two extremes that probably attract more legal attention.

Carrol Burnett sued and won… big time… It can be done but you gotta really want to. She did.

Many years ago I sold a small story (a paragraph’s worth) to the NE. The reporter indicated it would be checked out before printing. I have no connection to the media business, or celebrities. BTW, the NE staff was very polite and sent the check quickly.

The Enquirer publishes dirt – they broke the stories about Sarah Palin’s daughter being pregnant, John Edwards’ affair, Jesse Jackson’s love child, Rush Limbaugh’s drag addiction, and Monica Lewinsky’s stained blue dress, among others – but despite what the OP and others have suggested, they don’t just make stuff up. The same can’t always be said of the NY Times, USA Today, or Washington Post, each of which have recently fired reporters for plagarizing and/or fabricating stories

I’m aware of only three successful libel lawsuits against the Enquirer, the most prominent being the one by Carol Burnett in 1981. The other two took place in England, by Cameron Diaz in 2005 and Kate Hudson in 2006. The Enquirer is not published in England, but in each case the actresses argued that the availability of the paper’s website in the UK gave them jurisdiction, and the courts agreed. Both actresses prevailed, in part because British law does not include the malice clause that protects them in the US. After losing, the Enquirer blocked access to their sites by British and Irish readers.

And the Burnett victory shows just how hard it is to successfully sue for libel.

In brief, the Enquirer had run an article that Burnett had been drunk in public. Because the article had been specific about the date and place:

  1. Burnett was able to call witnesses who testified that she not only was stone cold sober but hadn’t even been seen drinking at all. So she was able to prove the story was FALSE.

  2. Because Burnett was able to provide so many witneeses that said the story was false, she was able to show that the paper had shown RECKLESS DISREGARD FOR THE TRUTH by not checking their story better.

  3. Finally, Burnett had been open about alcoholism in her family and had said many times that was why she didn’t drink, so she was able to prove the Enquirer story DAMAGED her personal and professional reputation.

Compare that to a story like “rumors have it that so-and-so’s weight gain was actually a baby bump, and she dealt with it” and you can see why it’s so hard for a public figure to sue for libel in the U.S.

A few years ago, I bought copies of all the major tabloids available at my supermarket checkout line. Once I got over the humiliation of having done so, I read them cover to cover.

One of the Enquirer’s cover stories was about Kobe Bryant’s accuser. One of her former friends came forward about the accuser’s desire to sleep with a star. The qualifier was that said confession happened at a slumber party when both girls were 15 or so. That was the nugget of truth in the story that kept it from being outright libel. The rest was just build-up.

There’s also a fair amount of gotcha journalism, and more than one reporter has gotten celebrity garbage off the curb to see what’s in there.


You mean like J. Edgar Hoover? You owe us all an apology for putting that in our heads.

I agree the short answer is freedom of speech. I despise and revile what they say, but I defend to the death their right to say it. Or something like that.

Then there’s the fact that these papers are definitely accorded little if any credibility or respect. The amount of ice they cut being so small, I imagine the amount of damage they can usually do is minor.

You’re making the assumption here that because so few libel suits have been successful that the tabloids must be correct.

Probably not. There have been numerous articles and books about the tabloid industry that state that they settle virtually all claims out of court. That gives them the facade of not losing, but the reality is that they are often wrong or over the line. They do get stories other papers don’t but that’s almost entirely because they are willing to pay for information and no mainstream news source in the U.S. does so. (I’m sure there have been a few exceptions and television “news” magazines have been run at times by the entertainment division so the rules are different. It’s still true virtually all the time.)

The Enquirer is usually factual, but I would always wait for confirmation before believing them. The others are rarely factual, and they’re the ones who regularly publish headlines on divorces and affairs and deaths and diseases that never come true. They do indeed make stuff up. Guaranteed.