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'National Enquirer' Breaks Serious News, Gains Some Legitimacy

Aired February 23, 2001 - 2:51 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you can't miss them in the checkout lines -- the supermarket tabloids. And one in particular, "The National Enquirer," has been pressing for a little legitimacy. It has broken two major stories of late. But will it ever be anything more than just a curiosity?

Here's CNN's Peter Viles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The story went directly from "The National Enquirer" to the front page of "The New York Times" to the United States Senate.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I was heartbroken and shocked by it.

VILES: "The Enquirer" has a history of scoops. This photo doomed Gary Hart's political career. During the O.J. trial, "The Enquirer" was must-reading. It helped solve the murder of Bill Cosby's son. This year, it broke the story of Jesse Jackson's affair, and now, the Hugh Rodham pardon story.

LORNE MANLEY, MEDIA EDITOR, INSIDE.COM: I think they want respect. I think people still turn to these tabloids for fun. But I think when they see something like this, like a Jesse Jackson love child, they expect it to be true.

VILES: Still, "The Enquirer" may never win over critics like Steven Brill.

STEVEN BRILL, "BRILL'S CONTENT": They have a tremendous advantage because they're not held to any standard.

VILES: But breaking news is good for business.

BRILL: It allows "The Enquirer" to go to advertisers and say, you know, "You really don't have to be as embarrassed advertising in this as before, because we're just doing the same stories that 'The L.A. Times' and 'The New York Times' and 'TIME' magazine are doing."

That happens not to be true, but I can hear the sales pitch.

VILES (on camera): Even though the focus is on attracting new advertisers, the reality is that tabloids like "The Enquirer" still live and die at the newsstand. "The Enquirer" gets only about 10 percent of its revenue from advertising. The industry average for large magazines is more than 50 percent.

Peter Viles, CNN Financial News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And Howard Kurtz, with "The Washington Post" and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," has been following this story.

He just finished talking with the editor of "The National Enquirer, " and Howard joins us now from our Washington bureau.

Is it as Steven Brill has suggested, just a sales tool?

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": I don't think so. I think that mainstream journalists, Lou, who used to look down their noses at that supermarket tabloid are now being forced to say that with these two stories, the Jesse Jackson story and the Hugh Rodham involvement in the presidential pardons, that those stories are rock- solid, that "The Enquirer" beat a lot of big news organizations to the stories, and that they were handled in a very professional manner.

WATERS: In "The New York Times," the headline reads, "'National Enquirer' Is out Front on Two Major Reports." Why do we care?

KURTZ: We care because this is traditionally a supermarket publication, if you will, that has regaled its readers with tales of Tom and Nicole, and Arnold and Marie were on last week's cover.

And the idea that they would now take seriously and devote reporting time to Washington scandals, which Steve Coz, the editor told me, are now at least as juicy and as interesting to their readers as Hollywood scandals, tells us something about the culture, and also tell us that this is a game that anybody who's got good reporters and a little bit of money, in "The Enquirer's" case, that's been around, can play.

They can compete with "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," and it's a little surprising to see them do so.

WATERS: We have a quote here from Mr. Coz: "The day the pardons were announced, we put 12 reporters on the 10 pardons that, to me, did not pass the smell test." That's pretty dedicated reporting, there.

KURTZ: Exactly. I mean, most -- even big newspapers don't have 12 reporters sitting around to just work on one story. "The Enquirer" does have one advantage over establishment news organizations. That is they do pay their sources. People at CNN and "The Washington Post" and lots of other places are not allowed to do that. That does help loosen some tongues. It gives them a bit of an edge.

But in this case it didn't discredit either story because none of the of the principles involved were paid any sum of money. WATERS: I don't want to steal your thunder, because I know Steve Coz is the subject of your "RELIABLE SOURCES" this weekend, but did he say anything about the revulsion up until now felt by politicians and celebrities over this tabloid publication, and how perhaps he might want to change that image?

KURTZ: I think that Steve Coz, who went to Harvard, has been trying for some years to move "The Enquirer" in a slightly more respectable direction. He takes reporting seriously. And they still do a lot of seedy stuff: stories that are perhaps half-true about celebrities,

But he's toned down the sensational content. He's made it a player in national politics, and I think that whereas five years ago, when they were breaking stories on the O.J. case, a lot of journalists were just regarding it as a disreputable rag. You can't say that anymore, at least when they play seriously on stories like this.

WATERS: So does this mean that, so-called "mainstream journalists" will now be more closely watching the "National Inquirer"?

KURTZ: I think if you're in the investigative reporting business you have to keep an eye on it, whether you like that particular weekly newspaper or not.

WATERS: OK, Howard Kurtz in Washington.

You can see Howard's interview with "The National Enquirer" editor, Steve Coz, this weekend. That's on "RELIABLE SOURCES," Saturday 6:30 p.m. Eastern, again Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, right here, of course, on CNN.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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