< Pulitzer Surprise?


Friday, January 22, 2010

BOB GARFIELD: This week, after more than a year of denial, former Senator John Edwards finally admitted that he fathered an illegitimate child with Rielle Hunter, a story that was broken in, of all places, The National Enquirer. In fact, the tabloid broke the story nearly a full year before the mainstream press, which only started reporting it after Edwards confessed to the affair in an interview on network TV. Just last week, PoliticsDaily.com’s Emily Miller wrote, quote, “The National Enquirer is a supermarket tabloid, but the time has come for the media elite to admit that it has an excellent investigative reporting team, which broke the biggest political scandal of 2009.” She went on to suggest that as a result of its Edwards investigation, The Enquirer should be considered for journalism’s most prestigious award, the Pulitzer Prize. The Enquirer has since announced that it is, in fact, submitting its John Edwards coverage for the Pulitzer. I asked The National Enquirer’s Executive Editor Barry Levine what he thought of his newspaper’s chances.

BARRY LEVINE: I think the members of the mainstream media would rather see the earth explode first than to reward us with a Pulitzer Prize.

BOB GARFIELD: Well, I know you’re pleased about Emily Miller’s suggestion because you actually did an item on it in the online edition of The Enquirer. It says, “Top D.C. Politico Lobbies Pulitzer Prize for Enquirer’s John Edwards Expose.” And here’s what surrounds it. “Clooney Ready to Wed,” “Mad Mel Advice to Tiger,” and, “Breaking News” – this is blinking – “Jen Disses Courtney Cox.” Can you see how the mainstream media doesn't necessarily take The Enquirer all that seriously?

BARRY LEVINE: You know, the fact is, The Enquirer has prospered for 30-some odd years because we have brought celebrities down to the reader’s level. It’s a formula that has been accepted by the public, and our readers want to know. At the same time, it’s very important to talk about the mix of stories that we put in the issue. The reason why I'm on your show today are the hard-hitting political stories and the true crime stories that we do over the years.

BOB GARFIELD: We're speaking of the O.J. case, we're speaking of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and, of course, John Edwards. It’s not a short list.

BARRY LEVINE: No. I mean, we've had a long history, going back to when Gary Hart was the frontrunner and he challenged the media to find out if he was cheating. The National Enquirer turned up o

f a photo of him on the boat aptly named –


BOB GARFIELD: Monkey Business.

BARRY LEVINE: - “Monkey Business” with his mistress Donna Rice, at the time, forcing the Democratic frontrunner to leave the presidential race. Over the years we've broken stories on both sides of the aisle – Rush Limbaugh’s drug addiction, Jesse Jackson’s love child.

BOB GARFIELD: As long as we're talking about The Enquirer’s history, it is extremely checkered. I mean, the magazine originally, back in, I think, the '30s, was founded by a pro-Fascist anti-Semite. When the magazine was purchased later, it was by someone arguably with Mafia ties. And there have been a bazillion lawsuits and a quadrillion threatened lawsuits, perhaps some settled and, you know, kind of a sorry history of invention, fabrication and just getting the story wrong. So you don't disagree that The Enquirer, when it wants to compete with The New York Times and mainstream news organizations, has a fair amount to live down, do you?

BARRY LEVINE: Listen, I think that The Enquirer has a colorful history.

BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] That’s, that’s a nice way of putting it.

BARRY LEVINE: I think one of the things that the mainstream media has looked down on The National Enquirer is the fact that we practice checkbook journalism.

BOB GARFIELD: Well okay, you mentioned checkbook journalism. Let's talk about that because it already sets you apart from most of the news organizations that are in competition for a Pulitzer in any given year, because it’s considered anathema to most of the mainstream press because it puts into question the credibility of a source who may be in it for the money and not necessarily for the truth. Do you think that the fact that you pay for tips and information is a disqualifying factor in being taken seriously by, you know, the likes of me?

BARRY LEVINE: Well, I look at it differently. We look at the value of paying money for credible information that we can corroborate with other sources, like the police or law enforcement, in attempting to get information that might lead to a conviction of a bad guy. We make no bones about it. The television networks, and I'm talking about ABC, NBC and CBS, routinely pay for big stories. They may not blatantly give out a big check to an individual, but they will disguise it in a way of paying for video or exclusive pictures, and oftentimes that helps steer these big get interviews their way. The difference with us is that we will advertise in our paper that we do pay for credible information. But people are not paid unless the information checks out, unless it’s corroborated, unless that information leads to a story in The National Enquirer.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, then. Finally, if The National Enquirer is deserving of the Pulitzer Prize, it’s because it dug in and followed a story that the rest of the press was alerted to and just plain ignored. Tell me, how did you get the John Edwards story that the rest of the mainstream media just wasn't interested in pursuing?

BARRY LEVINE: It took old fashioned reporting. There was a two-month investigation in North Carolina to find the woman. We finally got photographic proof of her being pregnant. Months later we'd stayed on the story, despite the mainstream media showing no interest in it, and we finally caught John and the woman in a hotel room in Beverly Hills, California, which eventually led to him admitting the affair.

BOB GARFIELD: Well, I don't know exactly what I mean by this, Barry, but I'm going to say, thank you and, and good luck with the Pulitzer.

BARRY LEVINE: Thank you so much.

BOB GARFIELD: Barry Levine is the executive editor of The National Enquirer.