From: Silver Screen
“Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer” ruffles up questions about what deserves to be considered journalism in today’s world
In today’s political climate, it seems as though mainstream media is constantly under fire for what they publish and how they got their information. People in the United States seem to gravitate towards certain publications based off of which direction they lean on the political scale, thus reading articles that feed into their confirmation biases. One publication that seems to be constantly scrutinized is the National Enquirer. “Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer” is a documentary that attempts to shine a light on the truth behind how the tabloid was created and what is has become. Throughout recent years, people have known the Enquirer to be nothing more than a tabloid, however its roots and specific discoveries in regards to some high profile cases intersect with the realm of journalism.
The documentary is told chronologically, starting at the creation of the publication, and moving forward through the years, making it easy to follow. The opening words from renowned journalist Carl Bernstein are words that stick with viewers through the whole film. His statement is bold and proposes the question that the film attempts to answer: what should and should not be included in the realm of journalism, and which realm does The National Enquirer fit into? By examining first hand experiences told by the reporters from the controversial publication, combined with the thoughts of outsiders, what the National Inquirer represents is left largely up to interpretation.
In the early beginnings of the National Enquirer, the publication had an incredible amount of money that could be spent to send reporters to every place imaginable in order to get the best stories, photos and quotes. Generoso Pope Jr., the creator of the Enquirer, had a very specific vision for what he wanted the publication to represent. He wanted the Enquirer to be a place where people could escape from the outside world and enter into scandals and celebrity features. However, in order to get the pictures and stories that sold the most copies, the Enquirer and its reporters used under the table tactics that could be seen as very unethical by today’s standards. The documentary does an excellent job of allowing past staffers to both explain what they did and then reflect upon their actions.
As the film progresses it begins to dive into Donald Trump’s extensive history with the National Enquirer. Trump’s relationship with the Enquirer is very telling of his aspirations and relationship with the media. When Trump first started his relationship with the Enquirer, he was mostly focused on gaining public interest into his personal life. He wanted the press to have him on the covers, and he wanted to be the face that sold copies. In truth, he was able to achieve his goal, and even today, his face appears everywhere in the media and in publications. However, the documentary reveals how his relationship with the Enquirer became much more than just publicity when he began his campaign for president.
After David Pecker, a man who had worked with CBS and other corporations, bought the Enquirer along with other tabloid publications with aspirations of becoming a celebrity, he was open to under the table deals in order to make more friends in high places. At this point in the film, a new theme begins to arise: if a person has enough money and/or power, they can control the media. When this dynamic is introduced, it reinforces the already seedy perspective of the Enquirer, in the sense that The National Enquirer would do favors for those who could pay enough money. Viewers ask whether or not tabloids should be included in the realm of journalism while also examining how corrupt the news and media systems can become. The inclusion of the ideas that involve the rich and powerful being able to control the media is extremely relevant in society today as President Trump continues to take various shots at the media for not doing their job well enough in his opinion.
The documentary takes viewers on a journey, one that can cause people to sympathize with former staff of The National Enquirer and also become infuriated with how powerful people can control what the public knows. The National Enquirer has influenced court decisions, uncovered scandals and had a staff of dedicated workers scrambling to sell papers and get the best stories. The documentary leaves morality and ethics of publications like the Enquirer up for interpretation and poses questions about what being in the field of journalism actually means. The film says society will determine what good journalism is and what falls short. Although this documentary is an incredibly interesting one, in truth, it does not offer much new or groundbreaking information about the publication. It mainly restates different policies and ethics of the publication that many individuals already know. The documentary does bring up some new and different perspectives, however, leaving the audience interested and with a bit of new information when they finish watching.
“Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer” was released in an exclusive engagement on Friday, November 15.