The Day America Changed

How did we get here?

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The National ENQUIRER and other tabloids at a supermarket checkout counter

Looking back at what led to the election of Donald J. Trump, historians and cultural anthropologists may mark the day in the 1960s when the National ENQUIRER first appeared at supermarket checkout counters, where Americans buy our groceries, as a turning point in American culture.

The National ENQUIRER (click the link) is not a newspaper. It’s not the New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times. It’s a tabloid that substitutes sensational photos and titillating headlines for responsible journalism. The National ENQUIRER and the Star, both owned by American Media, Inc., are not driven by the search for truth. They’re driven by profits that appeal to shoppers’ appetite for entertainment — sex, scandals, and alien visitations — purchased at check-out counters across America.

The story of the ENQUIRER’s origins and sudden omnipresence at America’s checkout counters one day in the late 1960s is captured in the following summary of Paul David Pope’s book, The Deeds of My Fathers. The book’s subtitle — How My Grandfather and Father Built New York and Created the Tabloid World of Today” — tells the story of those deeds.

Thrown upon his own devices, Gene [Pope] spies a newspaper he wants to run, the New York Enquirer. With a loan from “Uncle Frank”—mobster Frank Costello, his real-life godfather—Gene buys the paper, reinvents it as the National Enquirer, and forces its distribution onto grocery checkout counters nationwide. With an unerring sense of his audience, Gene sees his newspaper as appealing to a prototypical female reader dubbed “Missy Smith.” Increasingly tyrannical and eccentric, he scolds reporters who hand in weak copy: “I’m not crying,” which meant Missy Smith wouldn’t be, either. Gene gives readers what they want, as he covers the paranormal, medical cures, celebrities, ever mindful of the dreams and fears of everyday Americans. The result: a new species of modern media—the supermarket tabloid. Circulation soars, peaking with the 7 million copies sold of the Enquirer’s 1977 exposé on the death of Elvis Presley.

This week we learned that David Pecker, CEO of American Media, Inc., the parent company of the ENQUIRER, has accepted immunity from federal prosecutors in New York for agreeing to cooperate regarding the ENQUIRER‘s “hushing” of salacious stories about Donald Trump in the run-up to the 2016 national election.

American Media, Inc describes the ENQUIRER’s editorial mission on its website.

Enquiring Minds Want To Know!

The National ENQUIRER has a proud 92-year history. Insatiable headlines, scandals and unforgettable stories have made this title a household name! We report the unvarnished stories about celebrities: their antics, celebrations, loves, mishaps.

Plus, the ENQUIRER covers high profile national and international scandals like no other with exclusive breaking news. If it’s a gritty true crime story, or political scandal, no matter what is reported, National ENQUIRER readers are first to know!

Enquiring minds might wish to have read Karen McDougal’s suppressed story before casting votes in November 2016. But money is money, profits are profits, and supermarket tabloids like the National ENQUIRER remain indebted to “Uncle Frank”.

 

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“Uncle Frank” — Frank Costello, American mobster, testifying before The United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), 1950.

How did we get here? We got here as a result of contracts with supermarkets and drug stores that slowly erode the fabric of the culture on which a democratic republic depends. The ENQUIRER’s longer history includes open support for fascism and a not-so-open deal with Uncle Frank whereby the ENQUIRER would never criticize the mafia.

The 2016 national election says as much about the change in American culture — our obsession with entertainment and entertainment culture’s preference of crying over thinking — as it does about the National ENQUIRER or about a sitting president who rants about “fake news” while whittling away at what still remains of our respect for truth, decency, real news . . . and the rule of law.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 25, 2018.

6 thoughts on “The Day America Changed

    • It’s the backside of the American dream, isn’t it? Or maybe, God forbid, it’s the front side. Wealth, comfort, self-serving pleasure apart from communion with all others and all creatures and nature itself are the stuff of The Hollow Man and Woman. Ancient wisdom is trashed. There are no brakes on greed. Goodness and truth end up on the cross of a culture that worships greed and nation instead of Life itself.

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      • It is greed without generosity. Without kindness or caring. Greed is inevitable, but there was a time where you could be “out for yourself” yet still concerned about the rest of the world. Now, it’s cold, cruel, and relentless. I don’t know what it is. I think they’ve sold their souls.

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      • Interesting way of putting it, Marilyn. I have to think about greed being inevitable. I’ve viewed it as the twisting of one’s natural desire for economic security into a deadly sin that devours the soul. However that may be, cheers to you for this insightful comment. “Cold, cruel, and relentless.” Cheers for generosity, kindness, and caring!

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  1. Yes, exactly! Thank you Gordon. I keep asking myself that question, how did we get here? I know there are many true and relevant answers but this, what you have explained so well above, is one of the clear routes we have taken to get here. The next question may be why would we have followed down this path, or when will we be better.
    Nancy

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    • Nancy, Oh, I wish I knew of answers! We have become increasingly insane in the sense Elie Weisel used the term ‘collective insanity’. The sane person is viewed by the herd as ‘insane’ and the stampede of noise, nonsense, instant gratification without regard to truth or goodness marches. The technological revolution has placed instant communication in our hands — on the street, at home, and at work — but thoughtful reflection has been reduced to the size of a tweet. How do get back the social and psychic/spiritual space to make it better?

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