Tabloid, Exploit Thyself

Like everyone else, Chatterbox is very anxious to find out whether the two people who were exposed to anthrax spores while working in the Lantana, Fla., [Correction, Oct. 10: it’s Boca Raton, Fla.,] headquarters of American Media Inc., were victims of a terrorist attack. Until today, the daily press had been downplaying the story. Even today, the New York Times fronts one story with the innocuous headline “Second Case of Anthrax Leads FBI Into Inquiry” while burying on Page B11 a second, more analytic story by star science writer Nicholas Wade under the terrifying headline, “Natural Cause Appears Unlikely in 2 Anthrax Cases.” When propriety dictates that the mainstream media go easy–in this case, so as not to cause undue panic at the start of what is, after all, flu season–one can usually count on the supermarket tabloids to fill the void. Here, the tabloids have the simultaneous advantage and disadvantage of seeing the story unfold inside their own office building. (American Media owns all the big supermarket tabloids, including the Sun, which employed Robert Stephens, who died earlier this week from inhalation anthrax, and still employs Ernesto Blanco, who was found to have anthrax spores in his nose but has not yet contracted the disease.) Yet Chatterbox can find nothing about the anthrax outbreak on the Web page of American Media’s flagship publication, the National Enquirer. If you click on “Today’s Hottest Gossip,” you’ll learn that Courtney Love is suing members of husband Kurt Cobain’s former band, Nirvana, that George Clooney and Rene Zellweger are an item, and that the Emmys will be broadcast from New York and Los Angeles. This last is the tipoff that “Today’s Hottest Gossip” hasn’t been updated since Friday because the Emmys were subsequently cancelled in deference to the airstrikes in Afghanistan. According to Susan Schmidt in today’s Washington Post, editors and reporters for American Media have been sent to other offices in Florida and put back to work. Chatterbox hopes to hear from them soon.

[Update, 11:35 p.m.: “Today’s Hottest Gossip” has now been updated, but only to add a line about the cancellation of the Emmys. Still nothing on the anthrax story. If you scroll down, you can see that the Enquirer forgot to delete the old item saying the Emmys would be simulcast from New York and Los Angeles.]

[Update, Oct. 10: Still nothing about anthrax on the Enquirer Web site, but an American Media spokesman promises today’s Wall Street Journal that this week’s print edition will provide full coverage.]

[Update, Oct. 11: Still nothing about anthrax on the Enquirer Web site, even though the number of exposed American Media employees has risen to three. Meanwhile, “Today’s Hottest Gossip”   has added a negligible item  about Terminator 2 co-star Edward Furlong getting busted for drunken driving. The Enquirer’s Web blackout does not reflect an unwillingness on the part of American Media bigwigs to talk because chairman David Pecker was on CNN’s Larry King Live   yesterday. Pecker did not trim his sails. He said that “this is [an] attack against America” and that the same thing could happen to Time Warner or the New York Times.]