Eric Zorn: A call for supermarkets to stop selling National Enquirer
It’s immoral for stores to sell the National Enquirer.
This has been true since long before the Florida-based supermarket tabloid began churning out poisonously and deliberately false propaganda during the 2016 presidential campaign season — “Hillary (Clinton): 6 months to live!”; “Bill (Clinton) caught in teen sex ring!”; “Hillary hitman tells all!”; “Hillary and Huma (Abedin) going to jail!”; and on and on and on.
But it’s especially true now that news events have shown the depths to which the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., appear to have gone to distort, mangle and conceal the truth in pursuit of political goals.
I refer specifically to the emails AMI lawyers recently wrote to Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post. Those emails threatened that the Enquirer would publish embarrassing, intimate photos of Bezos if Bezos didn’t retract his accusations that the tabloid’s recent coverage of Bezos’ marital infidelity was politically motivated. The suggestion: that AMI was going after those whom President Trump considers his enemies.
“These communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism,” Bezos wrote in a blog post last week in which he reproduced the emails. “Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks and corruption.”
Good for Bezos. And good for journalist Ronan Farrow, actor Terry Crews and former Associated Press investigative editor Ted Bridis, each of whom has come forward to say that they, too, have resisted AMI’s efforts to extort them.
Now what about the enablers?
My issue isn’t so much with those of you who plunk down your $4.99 and buy the Enquirer or who subscribe for about $130 a year. You are willing supporters of the shambolic dog’s breakfast of gossip, scandal, humiliation, health tips and bizarre news provided by the paper, but there aren’t that many of you anymore anyway. The Enquirer’s weekly circulation, which reached 6 million 40 years ago, is down to just 218,000, according to Adweek.
My issue is more with the merchants — those who operate the estimated 40,000 supermarkets and 67,000 pharmacies in the United States, many of which give the Enquirer pride of place in racks by the checkout counter. This sort of display is a force multiplier for the incendiary, mendacious headlines that do nearly all the political dirty work for the Enquirer and its sister publication, Globe (“Hillary Clinton’s two secret strokes,” etc.).
Stores that would never give such prominence to, say Penthouse, fearing the wrath of parents not wishing to have their children corrupted by erotica, cheerfully contribute to the degradation of minds young and old by having them endure a gantlet of journalistic sewage just to pay for their purchases.
Stores that won’t sell cigarettes because of their negative health effects proudly sell publications that are a cancer on their communities.
It’s not just that the Enquirer serves malignant lies — the Alzheimer’s disease, brain cancer, multiple sclerosis, strokes and severe weight gain that it reported afflicted Hillary Clinton as she engaged in her spectacular pre-election crime spree — but that its publisher acts to conceal the truth.
AMI paid for the rights to stories of two women who say they had affairs with Trump. AMI purchased the rights not to publish those stories but to bury them. It bought off a doorman at Trump World Tower to try to keep him from going public with an unsavory allegation against Trump. And it made a deal in 2005 with Bill Cosby in which Cosby agreed to an interview with the Enquirer in return for the tabloid’s promise not to publish sexual assault allegations against him for two years, according to the comedian’s sworn testimony in a deposition.
Yes, the Enquirer sometimes gets it right amid all the irresponsible speculation about the deaths of JonBenet Ramsey and Natalie Wood and the health of Cher, Angelina Jolie, Chevy Chase and many others who have defied the Enquirer’s announcements of their imminent demises.
The paper was out front in coverage of the O.J. Simpson case, led the way in exposing the politically crippling infidelity of 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards and proved eerily prescient in predicting the death of Michael Jackson. These occasional spasms of enterprise and accuracy actually make the Enquirer a more destructive product than such comically fictional publications as the old Weekly World News (actual headlines: “Lincoln was a woman”; “Hillary names Bigfoot as her running mate!”; “Fat cat owns 23 old ladies”).
To accuse stores of immorality for selling the Enquirer may sound harsh. But if it’s immoral to lie and to attempt blackmail, as Bezos alleges, it’s immoral to facilitate the spread of lies and, through sales, the funding of an organization that uses the threat of exposure of embarrassing material to get its way.
Retailers, the recent news has put you on notice. You’re either with the National Enquirer or against it. The neutral ground has disappeared from under your feet.
Eric Zorn is an op-ed columnist and daily blogger for the Chicago Tribune, specializing in local news as well as politics.