- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

While the mainstream press struggles with a waning supply of blockbuster headlines, the supermarket tabloids are up to their oldest tricks and a few new ones despite anthrax attacks, logistical problems and falling circulation.
Just this week, the Florida-based Globe featured a two-page, color photograph of "Bin Laden's corpse," complete with shroud, saying that the terrorist had "met his end whimpering like a coward."
The tabloid was quite specific about the particulars, claiming bin Laden died Dec. 15 during an American attack on Tora Bora, and though "he cursed the bombers, he was very afraid of dying" and demanded medical attention, even if it came from Americans.
His companions, the Globe said, "told him to stop complaining and die like a man."
Still deft at connecting the dots between conspiratorial tales with reader appeal, the tabloid also reported recently that "Marines seize documents that prove bin Laden killed [Princess] Diana," among other things.
The National Enquirer, meanwhile, was apparently privy to bin Laden secrets. A story called "Bin Laden's master plan revealed" claimed the terrorist had nuclear "suitcase bombs" and was to have plastic surgery that would make him look "Chinese."
In the tabloid tradition, stories in both publications cobble together hair-raising notions, a few choice facts, anonymous sources and quotes from mainstream print and broadcast news organizations. But there is also a peppering of opinions from what appear to be named, credible sources.
A University of Miami political professor, former FBI and CIA agents and Pakistan officials are quoted right along with "sources in Afghanistan" and "a top intelligence source."
American Media, Inc. the parent company for the Globe, Enquirer and five other weekly tabloids has yet to return to its Boca Raton headquarters, closed since October after anthrax-laced letters were handled by two employees. One died.
Still, the $400 million company is doggedly publishing fare that includes often touching patriotic features; a photo spread of new babies born to the wives of rescue workers who died at the World Trade Center attack was called "The Angels of WTC."
Odd celebrity tales, weird fashion and inventive diet plans are still standard, even as company chief David Pecker pursues a reinvention he inaugurated back in 1999. His tabloids, he said at the time, would soon appeal to People and Us magazine readers.
The former chief of publishing giant Hachette-Filipacchi, Mr. Pecker hired the same designer who revamped Rolling Stone and Newsweek magazines to update his flagging weeklies which had lost 35 percent of their circulation in previous years.
Some believe Mr. Pecker is on the way to greater credibility.
"Elvis has left the newspaper! American Media, the nation's top publisher of tabloid newspapers, is revamping its leading publications," notes Hoovers Inc., a Texas-based business and marketing analysis group.
Their aim, Hoovers says, is "to focus more on hard news and reputable celebrity coverage."
This is not the first time, however, that the tabloid press has gotten some mainstream support. As major news organizations raced to cover the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, the New York Times, Associated Press and TV networks filed friend of court briefs in California to support the Globe, which was being sued for libel by an Indian photographer.

* Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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