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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2004 > Feb > Feb 29

Eddie Clontz: Master Of Tabloid Journalism

From: Terry W. Colvin <fortean1.nul>
Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2004 17:01:22 -0700
Fwd Date: Sun, 29 Feb 2004 10:02:46 -0500
Subject: Eddie Clontz: Master Of Tabloid Journalism


Source: The Economist - London

http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=S%27%298%3C%28PA%2F%2B%20P%22%2C%0A

Feb 19th 2004


Eddie Clontz: Master Of Tabloid Journalism

Eddie Clontz, master of tabloid journalism, died on January
26th, aged 56

THE relationship between truth and reporting has ever been a
tricky one. No scene remains undistorted as it passes the eye of
the beholder, and none reaches the page exactly as it was. But
while living with this discrepancy, many journalists struggle
with a much baser temptation. What they really want to put into
their copy is that extraordinary "fact", that jaw-dropping story
retailed by a single source down a crackling telephone line,
which would earn them a banner headline if they could only stand
it up.

Eddie Clontz felt this more than most, and he never resisted the
temptation. As the deviser and, for 20 years, the editor-in-
chief of WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, his delight was to run the wildest
stories he could find. He described himself not as an editor but
as a circus-master, drawing readers into his tent with an
endless parade of fantasies and freaks.

The NEWS had, and has, an unassuming look, a black-and-white
tabloid with blurry graphics that sits at supermarket checkouts
across America, among the chewing gum. But its headlines, in
inch-high sans serif, are another matter. "ARCHEOLOGISTS FIND
MIDDLE EARTH IN NEW JERSEY SWAMP!""SEVEN CONGRESSMEN ARE
ZOMBIES!""TINY TERRORISTS DISGUISED AS GARDEN GNOMES!" ("'These
guys are typical al-Qaeda operatives,' says a top CIA source,
'with beards down to their belt buckles'.") Such stories, all
from one recent issue, would have made Mr Clontz proud.

The NEWS for which he was hired, in 1981, was a sorry affair, a
dumping ground for stories that failed to make the NATIONAL
ENQUIRER. It had been started mostly to make use of the
ENQUIRER's old black-and-white presses after the sister-tabloid
had gone to colour. Mr Clontz soon shook it up. Out went the
tired celebrity gossip; in came space aliens, dinosaurs, giant
vegetables, and a "Psychic" column in which his brother Derek
would find readers' car keys. Circulation soared. In a good
week, it can reach well over a million.

Two stories in particular got Mr Clontz noticed. In 1988, his
organ revealed that "ELVIS IS ALIVE! (King of Rock 'n' Roll
Faked his Death and is Living in Kalamazoo, Mich!)". A few years
later, the NEWS reported that a bat boy, with huge ears and
amber eyes and "eating his own weight in insects each single
day", had been found by scientists in a cave in West Virginia.

Both items were followed up for years. Elvis went on appearing;
Bat Boy escaped, was recaptured by the FBI, fell in love and
endorsed Al Gore for president. Readers wrote in with their own
sightings, bolstering whatever truth the nation believed was
there. In 1993, Mr Clontz dared to kill the resurrected Elvis
("ELVIS DEAD AT 58!")--only to reveal some time later that this
death, too, had been a hoax.

SCALLOPS TO SCOOPS
Sheer chance seemed to bring Mr Clontz to this strange outpost
of journalism. After dropping out of school at 16 and trying his
luck as a scallop fisherman, he became a copy boy on his local
paper in North Carolina. He moved next to a Florida paper, and
from there to the disreputable corner office in the ENQUIRER
building, in a run-down resort near Palm Beach, from which he
was to entertain and terrify America.

His own politics were mysterious. Under the pseudonym "Ed
Anger", he wrote a NEWS column so vitriolically right-wing that
it possibly came from the left. Anger hated foreigners, yoga,
whales, speed limits and pineapple on pizza; he liked flogging,
electrocutions and beer. No, Mr Clontz would say, he had no idea
who Anger really was. But he was "about as close to him as any
human being."

Mr Clontz also always denied that his staff made the stories
up. It was subtler than that. Many tips came from "freelance
correspondents" who called in; their stories were "checked", but
never past the point where they might disintegrate. ("We don't
know whether stories are true," said Mr Clontz, "and we really
don't care.") The staff also read dozens of respectable
newspapers and magazines, antennae alert for the daft and the
bizarre. When a nugget was found, Mr Clontz would order them to
run away with it, urging them to greater imaginative heights by
squirting them with a giant water-pistol.

Yet he also showed care for authenticity. If a story resisted
tracking down, he would give it the dateline "Bolivia". If it
relied on "scientific research", he would make sure the
scientists were Bulgarian. Writers who made up the names of
Georgia natives terrorised by giant chickens would be asked to
check in the telephone book to make sure they did not exist.
Loving editorial attention was given to the face of Satan when
he appeared in a cloud formation over New York.

The result of this was that many readers appeared to believe Mr
Clontz's stories. Letters poured in, especially from the
conservative and rural parts of the country where Ed Anger's
columns struck a chord. If a sensible man like Anger kept
company with aliens and 20-pound cucumbers, perhaps those
stories too were true. When the NEWS reported the discovery of a
hive of baby ghosts, more than a thousand readers wrote in to
adopt one. But the saddest tale was of the soldier who wrote, in
all seriousness, offering marriage to the two-headed woman.


--
"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank Rice


Terry W. Colvin,
Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA)
fortean1.nul




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