Every couple of years, I buy a copy of the tabloid “Weekly World News”, to have a good laugh. However, there’s something I saw there this week (besides the discovery of an “Actual Photograph of Jesus!”) that really has me scratching my head.
They have a “psychic” column from “Serena Sabak”, in which she gives absolutely unequivocal answers to questions from readers. For example, somebody was asking where a long-lost relative lived, and she said “He lives in Medford, Oregon. You can find him listed in the phone book.”
In another instance, she tells a woman who is grieving over her dead husband that he’d had been “deeply in debt from his gambling” and as a result drove over a cliff to commit suicide. What!?
About half the letters are accompanied by photographs of the person who sent in the question (e.g. “Danielle from California”).
Of course, I realize that the answers are just made up. But the combination of the photographs and the specificity of the answers has me wondering if the WWN can possibly hide behind the usual “It’s only entertainment” defense. (Indeed, no such disclaimer appears on the page.)
I’m not sure if this post is about a legal question or a moral question, though I’m more motivated by the latter. I am thinking of poor “Danielle from California”, who may now be convinced that her husband killed himself because of gambling.
This leads me to see two possibilities: (1) These people are pure evil, or (2) The letters themselves are fake.
If (2) is the case, then where do they get the photographs? They must use up a lot of them: there are four in the current column, so they’d need about 200 a year.
I have to wonder if “Danielle from California” (if she exists) could sue WWN for “pain and suffering” if she can prove in a civil court case that her husband did not have a gambling problem. (Proving a negative is hard, but in a civil case you only have to prove your case by the preponderance of the evidence.)
Normally, tabloids like the WWN protect themselves from law-suits very cleverly – I’m sure most of you are aware of the techniques they use to do this. However, in this instance they appear to be leaving themselves open to litigation.
Are they reasoning that most of their readers are just too stupid to have money for lawyers, or what?