THE CHECK-OUT LINE – “That’s fifty-five forty-seven,” says the clerk. At this point the lady in front of me starts digging in her purse to find her check book. I seem to have some time on my hands so I look around to see if there is anything to read. Ah, here’s a magazine. “Scientology’s Evil War on the Cops!” “Brit Begs Sam to Save Her!” “Jennifer Aniston Looking for Mr. Right!” What I don’t read is: “Trump Pays Hush Money to Porn Star.” Oh, no wonder. It’s the National Enquirer. This is the world of tabloid journalism, although actually there is no way we could call it journalism. It’s sensational and usually totally fictional reports. They have come to public notice because of the National Enquirer’s program of “catch and kill” in which that paper buys a story and then doesn’t run it to prevent any other publication from running it. In this case, two separate accusations that former President Donald Trump had affairs with two women, not his then-wife, were purchased by the National Enquirer and dumped to protect Trump.

First, we must be sure of what we mean by tabloid. Many newspapers are broadsheets, such as the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. Other papers are tabloids, which are half the size, such as the New York Post, the Daily News and Newsday in New York, the San Francisco Examiner. But then we have the supermarket tabloids. You know, when waiting in line to check out at your local grocery store you see the racks of tabloids. These wild publications used to be found in book store news racks alongside Time and Texas Monthly and such, but by the 1970s these wild papers were found only at the checkout lines at your Randall’s. By the 2010s the main producer of tabloid weeklies was American Media, Inc., which published some of the most popular tabloids. Those included the National Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star, which ran stories on Hollywood stars and other American celebrities, gory crimes and just made-up scare stories.   

“Headless Body in Topless Bar”

— The New York Post’s front page on April 15, 1983

The tabloids we have today actually began in Britain. In 1900 Alfred Harmsworth, founder of the Daily Mail in London, started the first modern tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mirror. Going for the mass market, the paper printed crime stories and celebrity gossip. By 1909 it was selling a million copies per day. Soon the other such tabloids sprang up. In circulation, their Sunday papers had a combined circulation of roughly 10 million. The papers sported a bright red logo at the top of Page1 and thus were called Red Top Tabloids.

About as close to a supermarket tabloid I came was when I worked at the late and lamented Houston Post. In 1983 it was purchased from the Hobby family by a group of Canadians who owned several tabloids. They brought in one of their editors whose prior jobs included bartending. He re-designed our conventional front page layout to one resembling their owners’ Canadian tabloids, still a broadsheet but with – one guess – a bright red logo at the top of Page 1 and lots of big headlines. Houston is a culturally conservative town which doesn’t go for such blatant bravado. Changing the layout of their morning newspaper was like changing the name of their children. We lost thousands of readers. Within a short time the red logo disappeared and the Post returned to its traditional look.

“Bible Prophecies that Just Came True!”

As with many newspapers across the nation, these sensational tabloids are in trouble. With few exceptions, most major tabloids failed to get on board with the digital world. Some have been sold for a fraction of their previous value. In the 1990 the National Enquirer had a circulation of around 4 million. It’s now about 100,000. It took five years of trying before the National Enquirer was sold for “an undisclosed amount.” Still, some supermarket tabloids have had their day. In 2007, the National Enquirer revealed that John Edwards, then a candidate for president, had fathered a child with a campaign worker. That ended Edwards’ campaign. In 1987 Gary Hart sought the Democratic presidential nomination and was widely viewed as the front-runner until reports surfaced of an extramarital affair. Hart basically dared the press to catch him in the act of infidelity. The National Enquirer obtained images of Hart and model Donna Rice on a Florida yacht called “Monkey Business.” So much for President Hart.

I once interviewed an attorney general of Mexico and asked, “Why do Mexicans keep selling drugs to us?” He answered, “Because you Americans keep buying.” I couldn’t think of a quick retort. So we must ask these tabloids how they stay in business while publishing such ridiculous stories? They do it because millions of Americans buy them. 

“Hollywood Beauties Who Admit to a Nose Job!”

Legit news organizations never pay sources for news, but the National Enquirer does. They call it “checkbook journalism.” And they reward their friends and punish their enemies. As noted, tabloids came to the public spotlight with that magazine’s love and handling of Donald Trump. The National Enquirer ran countless articles saluting Trump and castigating his enemies. Before the 2016 primaries: “Hillary Gains 103 lbs!” “Hillary Six Months to Live! Cruel Bill Forces Her to Stay on Campaign Trail!” A rival for the GOP presidential nomination was a doctor named Ben Carson. The National Enquirer ran a totally made-up a story that Carson had left a sponge in a patient’s brain. The biggest non-scoop was: “Ted Cruz’s Father Linked to JFK’s Assassination!”

OK, the National Enquirer is in trouble, so we need to fill the vacuum. “HPD Loses 260k Cases!” Or: “Lite Gov Dan Patrick, Judge in Paxton Impeachment Trial, Takes $2 mil From Paxton Supporters!” Or: “Guv Abbot Forbids COVID Masks: 92,378 Texans Die!’ How about: “Astros $95 Mil Pitcher Has 6.50 ERA!” “New HISD Boss Brings Chaos to Schools!” Nah, nobody would believe such outlandish stories. .

Ashby inquires at

Editor’s note: This column and its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of The Leader News, its staff, or its publisher. The Leader News welcomes opinion articles on matters of interest to Greater Heights residents at Publication is at the discretion of the editor.