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Tabloid Journalism

Date: 10-23-10
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Paul David Pope

Author Paul David Pope joined Ian Punnett for a discussion on the true untold story of the founding of The National Enquirer, and the indelible mark it left on modern journalism. Pope said the infamous tabloid got its start in 1952, when his father, Gene Pope, purchased the low-selling New York Enquirer (circulation 17,000) using a $25,000 loan from mobster Frank Costello. According to Pope, whenever Gene ran into financial trouble with the struggling newspaper he went to Costello for more money. In return, he was asked to avoid printing stories about the mafia and to run promos for Costello's night clubs and other interests, Pope added.

Pope said his father revamped the newspaper's format to focus on crime and gore after witnessing a crowd gathered at a gruesome accident scene. Some headlines from the time include: "Madman cuts up date and puts her body in his freezer," "I ate my baby," and "Mom uses son's face as ash tray." By 1954, the paper was selling a million copies each week, but Pope's father had bigger plans. The content was toned down a bit, centering on celebrity scandals, health-related topics, and paranormal mysteries, so the publication could be sold in supermarkets across the country, Pope explained.

Checkbook journalism, or paying sources for information and photos, was practiced at The Enquirer and allowed the tabloid to break major stories, such as 1987's Gary Hart-Donna Rice affair. That scoop gave the paper much needed credibility in the industry, Pope said. Other information was obtained from blackmailed government officials encouraged to work with the paper's reporters, as well as from Gene's CIA connections. According to Pope, his father traded information with the CIA and even received UFO stories from them. Despite its questionable reputation, Pope maintains that The Enquirer was always held to high journalistic standards, and nearly all of the stories it published were true.

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