The Gutter Press

Blog #2 by Piatra Marani

You’re at the check-out stand. It looks like the woman in front of you is purchasing everything from aisle seven. With coupons and a personal check. You have plenty of time to kill, so you pick up the latest copy of Weekly World News to get your update on Bat Boy. He has to be in college by now, right?

Tabloids have been keeping us busy with the news we really don’t need to know since almost the beginning of journalism itself. Today’s tabloids have everything from celebrity scandals to the latest Big Foot sightings.

But we hear about these FACT CHECKERS that apparently have red pens of fire ready to slash anything in our writing that isn’t 100 percent accurate. Do they approve these stories about aliens talking to Larry King, too? Publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post are held to high ethical standards and if everything works out the way it should, those facts are something we can count on. So how do some publications make claims that are so beyond believable they make us roll our eyes?

It turns out that there is no law against writing fiction. The most outrageous publications can write stories about Bat Boy and the Mermaid Woman because they cannot be proven or disproven. As long as the real people in the story are not libeled (a false claim about an individual used in print or broadcast) the story will most likely be free to publish. Granted, many of these publications aren’t taken for much more than entertainment.

When celebrities are mentioned and the facts aren’t quite right, many choose to let the story blow over, knowing that a law suit will just bring more unwanted attention to the story. However, there have been a few cases where people have sued over the stories written about them and won. Among those angry enough about the false things said about them to take it to court are: Carol Burnett, Aretha Franklin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman to name a few.

While it has been done, a celebrity suing for libel is no easy task. When a celebrity sues for libel, they must prove that the libelous statement was made with actual malice and reckless disregard for the truth. Because they are public figures, “defamation of character” doesn’t hold much water.

Considering the stories you have seen in tabloids, do you think there should be stricter laws on the information that some tabloids publish? Sometimes there appears to be a thin line separating what we know is ridiculous and what might be true (Remember the rumors last February that Brangalina split? They sued for that story, by the way). Have you ever found yourself questioning the validity of a story you read in a tabloid?

While the antics of Bat Boy might entertain us for a few minutes while Ms. One-Trip-to-the-Store-a-Year finishes up, some stories leave us questioning their ethical limits.

Here are a few links on tabloid history and recent stories:

A Brief History of Tabloids

David Beckham Sues a Tabloid

Tabloid Hacks the Royal Family – NYT.com

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3 Responses to The Gutter Press

  1. khriztah says:

    I never thought about “Fact Checking” in tabloids, it certainly makes sense that tabloid stories should be validated but there’s no law against it? That’s hilarious. It’s easy enough to tell that tabloids are anything but factual but I don’t think the general population is keen enough to always make that distinction. It makes you think about celebrities and their plight when it comes to false stories written about them. Their agents and PR people must always be scrambling to set the record straight since it’s all to easy for these fabricated stories to be taken as the truth. Great post.

    • piamarani says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. Tabloids are something we see almost every day, but I never stopped to consider it journalism. But technically, it is! It was interesting to find that a lot of what is written about celebrities sneaks under their “libel radar” as a publicity strategy. If they’re in the news, they’re doing alright. It’s when people stop caring what size latte you get that you have to worry I guess.

  2. briannabalty says:

    Interesting! I have never thought about “fact checking” where tabloids are concern. I guess it’s because I have always felt that tabloid reading is for leisure, although it’s highly appealing to me. In fact, it’s what I am leaning towards in my career. Not exactly writing for a tabloid, but I would love to see the in’s and out’s of it. I have over the years become fascinated with all the “hype” that tabloids create. Its a cycle that is sure to always be around. I believe our interest in these stories are our way of coping with everyday dramas. PLUS, PR would definitely be out of business if these stories didn’t have holes!

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