Thursday, September 4, 2008

Enquiring Minds Want . . . More Than Trashy Rumors

The National Enquirer recently took the political scalp of former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards (D-Priapus). As most of you know, it's now going after Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin with similarly salacious material, including an alleged Palin affair.

I bought and read the Enquirer, so you don't have to: Palin should be able to breathe easy. There is much less to the charges than the wild headlines imply.

The Enquirer made very specific charges against Edwards, including naming times and places he met his mistress, and published a photo. The reporting was solid.

But the Enquirer article on the Palin "affair" never actually says there was an affair. If you read it closely, the charge is attributed to a family enemy. An Alaskan blogger said the "affair" was actually just a flirtation 10 years ago that was never consummated. I am not vouching for this unverified tale, btw, just pointing out that's how rumors can mushroom.

The Enquirer twice referred to the charge of an affair as "incredible". One meaning of "incredible" is "so implausible as to elicit disbelief," which may provide a legal out in case the Enquirer is sued.

While the Enquirer article is just unverified gossip, there's a worthwhile question it raises: Why did the Enquirer print such a groundless article? Perhaps the Enquirer is trying to show it's bipartisan in scandal-mongering. If so, that's the wrong way to do it.

Alternatively, the Enquirer might think that hyping a Palin scandal would sell more papers. That's also wrong. Unless the Enquirer backs up its sensational coverage with something more credible than an enemy's trashy gossip, the tabloid's reputation may itself be headed back to the trash.

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