Who made the National Enquirer? Enquiring minds…probably aren’t losing much sleep over that one.
Vitek (Journalism and English/Edgewood Coll.) tracks the rise of the tabloid pioneer and its autocratic owner in an account that could use a little scandal-sheet sizzle. Dry, academic prose, replete with references to the likes of Foucault, Baudrillard and theories of “the abject,” paints Generoso Pope Jr. (1927–88) as a gray, dour presence who, despite a privileged cosmopolitan background, a degree from MIT and connections to the storied Frank Costello–era Mafia, never developed personal qualities or interests beyond expanding the circulation of his supermarket rag. Pope shepherded the National Enquirer through several incarnations: gory accident-photo freak show; folksy, low-rent Reader’s Digest (the version apparently closest to his own determinedly lowbrow tastes); celebrity scandal organ. Each was immensely profitable. Pope was an astute businessman; instead of selling off his black-and-white printing presses when the Enquirer went to color, for example, he used them to print the even sleazier Weekly World News, at nearly pure profit. Anti-intellectual and addicted to mediocre TV sitcoms (his sole vice aside from chain-smoking), he intuited what the ladies in the checkout line wanted to read about and gave it to them. The sensational and salacious aspects of the tabloid game didn’t interest Pope, nor do they engage Vitek to any significant degree, to the book’s detriment. A few mild anecdotes of journalistic skullduggery, usually perpetrated by cheeky imported Brits, provide fitful amusement, and there are good sections on some of the Enquirer’s sensational “greatest hits,” including the infamous “dead Elvis” cover. Vitek notes the precipitous decline in the Enquirer’s fortunes following Pope’s death and makes perfunctory observations about the “tabloidization” of mainstream media resulting in the marginalization of old standard bearers like the Enquirer. That would be a much richer subject than the history of a colorless purveyor of titillating junk.
Forget about the front page—this story wouldn’t make the Enquirer at all.