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Yesterday I was in the grocery store and got sucked into my favorite journal of American popular culture. No, not People. The National Enquirer. In case you haven't noticed, the National Enquirer always has the absolute juiciest celebrity gossip in print. Obviously there's even better stuff on the web, like Perez, but when forced to wait in long check out lines, I like to think that my grocery store is really inviting me to take a few minutes to catch up on important information, like "How to have the best sex ever" (Cosmo) or which Hollywood star is pregnant (People) or how to better organize my closets (Real Simple). Mostly, I read the National Enquirer because for the past fifteen years or so, they've been right a lot of the time and way ahead of the news cycle when it comes to sex and famous people.
Remember when Ellen was straight? Guess who wrote about that long before she became Ellen the lesbian? Remember when it seemed like Bush was untouchable? Guess who wrote about his drinking problems and how Laura wants to leave him long before his popularity in the polls started to slip? Yup. The National Enquirer. The reporters there seem to know things that other journalists just don't see. Not that other journalists don't love a scandal.
After all, when the Enquirer broke the John Edwards affair, other "reputable" news outfits couldn't get enough of it. And when Edwards' affair killed his chance at getting the Democratic nomination for President, it was not the Enquirer that continued to play and replay the story because they had already moved on to drunken Dubbya or still philandering Bill.
And now the tabloid has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism and it is no doubt driving "real" journalists crazy. After all, real journalists don't care about whether politicians have extramarital affairs; they care about policy. As if!
The truth is that "real" journalism is increasingly concerned with the personal life of everyone. This "oprahfication" of news- where it's all personal all the time- happened alongside a "de-fanging" of independent journalism as news outlets became controlled by a handful of corporations that cut budgets for investigative reporting and limited the media's role as watchdog to the point that political and corporate leaders are no longer even questioned by most U.S. reporters.
The emphasis on the personal even as news was depoliticized makes it impossible to say that the New York Times is "real" and the Enquirer is "gossip." The Enquirer is unabashedly about the personal; the Times tries to maintain a veneer of the fourth estate about it. But the actual line between "real" journalism and tabloids has become so blurry that it can no longer be discerned.
And so the National Enquirer may get a Pulitzer for investigative journalism, as they should. And if we're really lucky, the story about Oprah's big fat gay lies and Liz Taylor getting married again and Taylor Swift being a sex addict will also be true. Not because it would "change history" the way the Edwards' story did, but because it will make my check out line reading ever so much more amusing.