Keeping Tabs

Bin Laden, Wanted: Dead or Alive

The tabloids’ take on Sept. 11.

Keeping Tabs had held out an irrational hope that the events of Sept. 11 were so overwhelming and sobering that they might have shamed the tabloids into some kind of shocked restraint, if not complete silence. No such luck. While even gossip stalwarts like the New York Post’s “Page Six” went briefly dark, all three tabloids weighed in this week on schedule, with issues devoted almost exclusively to the terrorist attacks. Rest assured that the tabloid take on the events is one-of-a-kind journalism. Where else but the National Enquirer would you find the cover line: “How we’ll assassinate Bin Laden”? The Globe cover features a photograph of Bin Laden framed in a “Wanted!: Dead or Alive” banner, with the words “or Alive” menacingly stricken out.

Given that melodrama is the coin of the realm in Tabloidland, and searing pathos can routinely be wrung out of hangnails, it’s truly difficult to stomach this week’s crop. Faced with countless real stories of unimaginable horror, courage, and grief, the tabloids spin entirely out of control. Most of us know by now, for example, that Frasier executive producer David Angell and his wife, Lynn, were passengers on doomed American Flight 11. But only the Star would dare to report on Frasier star Kelsey Grammer’s supposed reaction to the news: “‘Oh God, not David, not Lynn! There has to be some mistake. It’s so horrible, so tragic, I can’t believe it’s happened,’ ” the Globe reports Grammer as saying. “And then there was silence, save for the muffled sounds of a grieving man struggling—without success—to hold back his tears.”

The Globe’s coverage is the thinnest but—true to form—the most overwrought, including “What I Saw,” a Globe reporter’s “own gripping story” of being 10 blocks from the World Trade Center when the planes hit. “There were no answers, only fear,” writes Christy Smith. “I wanted to close my eyes. But I couldn’t.” The Globe also offers a piece about Osama Bin Laden’s 3-year-old nephew, who is supposedly being trained to be a suicide bomber. “At a time when he ought to be scribbling in a coloring book or riding a tricycle,” the Globe reports somberly, “little Majid totes a Kalashnikov automatic rifle and learns to throw hand grenades.” (The accompanying photo of the little boy, weapon in hand, might well be real but looks like something straight out of the Weekly World News.) The Globe also wins, hands down, for the most off-the-wall story: a profile of Osama Bin Laden claiming he “suffers from a medical condition that left him with underdeveloped sexual organs, and his hatred of the United States began when an American girl laughed at his problem.” Larry Johnson, the former deputy director of counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, supposedly confirmed to the Globe that “this is well known within the murky world of international terrorism.” “Because of his failure with American girls,” the Globe reports, Bin Laden “detests Western celebrations of romance, railing against Hollywood movies and Valentine’s Day.”

The highlight of the Star’s extensive coverage, meanwhile, is that they manage to link both Prince William and the late Princess Diana to the attacks. A story titled “William Shows His Stars & Stripes” suggests that the tribute to America at Buckingham Palace, during which the Star-Spangled Banner was played, was actually the teen-aged prince’s idea, inspired by his mother’s love of America. “We’ve got to do something to show America we are true friends and allies,” William supposedly told his father. “Nothing since his mother’s death four years ago has hit him harder than this,” royal expert Harold Brooks-Baker is quoted as saying. “But the way he took charge to tell America ‘We’re with you’ was inspiring. He’s a born leader—and Diana would be so proud.”

The Enquirer, which has always had the most serious pretensions of the three publications, has the most newsweekly-ish coverage, from a story about the 43 nuclear suitcases supposedly missing from Russia, to a cutaway diagram titled “In the Terrorist’s Lair,” showing the layout of Osama Bin Laden’s bunker. (“He has a library of Islamic holy scriptures” says the caption next to a drawing of a bookcase.) But the Enquirer editor who OK’d a photo simulation of the alleged passenger uprising on United Flight 93 needs a serious talking-to, vying for this week’s bad-taste award with the Star’s Flight 93 story—illustrated with a photo montage of a plane superimposed to look like it’s headed straight for the Capitol.

While all three magazines dedicate their first 25 pages or so to stories related to Sept. 11, the remaining pages are filled, jarringly, with run-of-the-mill tabloid fare that seems almost comically out of place: former Baywatch star Yasmine Bleeth’s arrest for cocaine possession (“It’s a tragedy,” a source tells the Globe); and courtesy of the Enquirer, how bankruptcy has “devastated” Facts of Life cutie Kim (“Tootie”) Fields. Not to mention what Mariah Carey did after checking herself out of UCLA Medical Center. (She stopped by the Malibu Fish Restaurant, reports the Star, and purchased a $2 bag of french fries.)

For those in need of warm, fuzzy distraction and/or a dose of Jennifer Lopez news, the Globe offers a heart-warmer of an inspirational tale titled: “How J. Lo’s Dancer Beau Conquered Clubfoot—& waltzed into her heart.” It appears that Lopez’ fiance, Cris Judd, was born with a clubfoot—”a congenital condition that could have kept him from walking!” Judd, of course, not only walked, but went on to a career as a professional dancer. For anyone who doubts it, Keeping Tabs suggests a visit to Judd’s father’s restaurant in Niceville, Fla.—Egg Rolls Are Us—where you can see his corrective footwear for yourself. “We decided to put [the braces] on display as an inspiration to kids—to show them they can overcome adversity,” explains Judd père. And fear not: Cris Judd’s handicap has clearly not hindered him literally or figuratively. A “chum” is quoted as saying that Judd is “sensitive, sweet and down-to-earth. He jumps into relationships with both feet.” So upside-down is the world just now, that Keeping Tabs found this painful play on words somehow comforting, even as she groaned at it. The tabloids—and life—will indeed go on.