The notorious tabloid’s former editor explains in this zippy memoir how it changed the face of journalism.
The National Enquirer’s origins lie in the murk of the New York Evening Enquirer, a floundering paper bought by Generoso Pope Jr. in 1952. Pope was a man with shady links to organized crime, but if that was where he found his financial backing, the influence pretty much ended with the printing of Italian league soccer scores. Otherwise, Pope went his own way. He tried a mix of gossip, sports, and a smattering of hard news; moved to a gore-and-crime format; and then had the genius of placing his paper at supermarket checkouts, which meant he had to change the editorial angle—bullet holes would go only so far with homemakers. So Pope shifted to TV celebrities and tragedy, with grace notes of “possible life in space, extrasensory perception, life beyond the grave, and reincarnation.” He added useful tips on handling phony salesmen, psychological advice on dealing with a rocky marriage. Brilliantly, Pope addressed medical concerns; he looked for stories that “triggered emotions in his readers.” That sounds, the author notes, like today’s standard newspaper fare. Writing as if he were in a sprint, albeit one with which it's fun to briskly stride along, Calder recaps practically every story the Enquirer made: Jackie O, Oprah, Elvis, Princess Grace, Michael Jordan, Roseanne Barr, and, triumphantly, O.J. Simpson. It wasn’t just for the titillation of it all, he insists, but for the newsgathering; he points to the “truth squad” created to vet stories after the Carol Burnett debacle and the birth of ethics coverage of public officials as proof that the Enquirer is more than a rag. That’s something of a gloss—the paper is ultimately a sensational tabloid—but not exactly dissembling.
If the National Enquirer is where reporters go to die, it must be America’s most exciting retirement community.