Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The “National Enquirer”, Space Aliens, and the JFK Assassination

I once wrote occasional items for the National Enquirer.  Whether there was a by-line, I don’t recall;  they would ask me occasionally for an assessment of matters related to language.   I had never read that periodical, but knew its reputation among the aesthetically-correct elite, and was bemused that this much-maligned tabloid would go to the trouble of getting input from an actual expert in a certain field, completely unknown outside of that field and thus with no commercial pizzazz.  That simply didn’t gibe with The Narrative that was assumed by right-thinking illuminati.  So I looked at a few issues, and found it as alien to my tastes as can well be imagined: a relentless focus on celebrities, including such truly eyelid-deadening matters as celebrity diets.   Still, you can’t really fault them for that -- de gustibus;  similarly, the American Mathematical Monthly is rather obsessively focused on math.

At one point -- since I had a family to support and was being paid a pittance at my day-job, despite its being a Ph.D. position (or rather two positions, each requiring a Ph.D.) -- I actually considered becoming more involved with them, and sent away for their application materials.  It was a daunting packet:  a relentless emphasis  upon the absolute need for research, accuracy, documentation … tape-record everything, assume you’ll have to stand up to legal challenge from public figures with a fan-base and high-powered lawyers,  leave nothing to chance … they really didn’t make it seem like a free ride at all.  True, methodological exactitude in the service of often trivial stories (Which Hollywood Starlet Has Been Secretly Cheating on her ... Diet?);  but within their sphere of activity, their striving for journalistic integrity was impressive.

Now, I haven’t glanced at the Enquirer for roughly thirty years, and maybe it has changed;  but apparently not:  the even-handed summary in Wikipedia supports this:
In fact, the Enquirer appears to have an impressive record of journalistic scoops -- many of them initially denied or decried by the rest of the world.

So!  While we are on the subject of journalistic integrity, consider this, from the Washington Post, a prominent daily newspaper with a mostly undeserved reputation for excellence:

Trump was widely criticized Tuesday for claiming that Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, was spotted with Lee Harvey Oswald around the time of Kennedy's assassination. The business mogul seems to have been referring to a National Enquirer story from last month alleging that the elder Cruz appeared in a 1963 photo with Oswald, a claim the now-defunct Cruz campaign has called "garbage."
After ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos questioned the tabloid's credibility -- it is perhaps best known for its alien sightings -- Trump defended the Enquirer's coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder trial and John Edwards's sex scandal in 2008.

There are formulations one could criticize:  Trump didn’t just come out and “claim” that Rafael Cruz was “spotted” with Lee Harvey Oswald;  rather, the Enquirer published a quite explicit photograph, showing Oswald a few feet away from a gentleman whom the Enquirer identified as Cruz Sr.; Trump merely alluded to this, as might anyone.   But what really grabbed my eye was that phrase “best known for its alien sightings”.   If it is best known for that, rather than for (in the words of the Enquirer’s own site) “the most up-to-the-second celebrity gossip, news and Hollywood happenings”, it is because of misleading -- you might say, lying -- characterizations such as the one above in the Washington Post.   There are indeed tabloids that deal in that;  at the time I wrote for the Enquirer, there was the Weekly World News (I think it was called), which had a great deal of purely imaginary Elvis sightings and anal probes.   The Enquirer was not like that at all.  (Again, don’t take my word for it, check out their site;  and see whom you believe, the Enquirer or WaPo.)

So the legitimate questions -- which neither the Post article nor those in the rest of the  media of decorum address -- are:

(1)  Is the photograph genuine, or a hoax?  In the latter case, the Enquirer is either
   (a) civilly and perhaps criminally liable for a grave misdeed, or
   (b) the victim of hoaxsters (as it was in the case when the paper was hoodwinked by some reporters from the Salt LakeTribune), and thus arguably negligent.

And if the photograph is genuine, then the question is:

(2)  Is the figure circled by the Enquirer  in fact Rafael Cruz?

(On all those questions, I am myself completely agnostic;  simply making a logical point.)
The disinclination of the MSM, or the Cruz campaign, to address this obvious and simple fact, is noteworthy.  In particular, calling the Enquirer account “garbage” is a mere evasion:  what about (1), and (2)?  If the Enquirer has (excuse the verb) simply trumped up a slander, or lazily propagated the fabrication of others without due diligence, or otherwise been journalistically remiss, then it deserves anything from legal sanctions to a very public shaming, as happened to Rolling Stone in the mendacious campus-rape affair (although the goodthink media that gleefully ran with the story until it exploded, once again got a pass).  But merely rattling the Park Avenue tea-cups at it, and spreading innuendo and even falsehoods in the process, as the Washington Post appears to have done, is not a valid argument.


For another case of a story that, if true (and we ourselves hold no brief  one way or the other), was well worth investigating, but which died, as the publication that first uncovered it is sniffed-at by its betters:

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