March 12, 2020  (Web Review)

Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer

(2019) 97 min. DVD: $26.99. Magnolia Home Entertainment (avail. from most distributors). Closed captioned.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

An entertaining, gossip-filled behind-the-scenes history, filmmaker Mark Landsman’s chronicle of the nation’s most prominent tabloid publication notes that it began in 1926 as The New York Enquirer. Purchased in 1952 by Gene Pope with an infusion of mob money (that rumor is true), the weekly quickly shifted focus, becoming a “gore rag” full of violent pictures. But Pope had greater ambitions, and blood and guts don’t play well with mommies and kids in a supermarket checkout line, so the stories settled into the now-familiar ones about celebrity sex, drugs, and UFOs, and the name was officially changed to National Enquirer. Pope also moved the whole operation to Lantana, FL, hired a bunch of Brit reporters (top-notch scandal sheet vets), and began building an empire. When Elvis Presley died in 1977, six NE reporters boarded a Lear jet for Miami, carrying $50K in cash—some of which made it into the hands of one of the deceased King’s cousins, who snapped the only photo of Elvis in his coffin. The issue with that front page pic sold 6.9 million copies. Scandalous interviews a wide range of former NE writers and editors who share the juicy details behind Cosby’s “story kills,” the Gary Hart/Donna Rice exposé, the taped recording of Cathy Smith saying that she killed John Belushi (which led to her arrest), and more. One of the key moments came during the O.J. Simpson murder case when mainstream media had to admit that the NE had scooped them all with reportage on major evidence (the NE slid right back down the reputation scale with the paparazzi-related death of Lady Diane). After Pope’s death in 1988, the NE was acquired by a group that later became American Media Inc. and fell under the guidance of Larry Pecker, an aspiring social climber who cozied up with big names—including Donald Trump—and ultimately steered the NE in a decidedly partisan direction by “catch and kill”-ing stories on Trump’s extramarital affairs and mercilessly attacking Hilary Clinton. Of timely interest are the interviews interspersed throughout with Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman, and New Yorker writer Ken Auletta on how the mainstream media started to slide into tabloid sensationalism due to the influence of the NE. One bit of fake news: the back of the DVD cover has a symbol for closed captioning—the disc is not closed captioned. Sure to be a popular acquisition—enquiring minds want to know!—this is recommended. Aud: C, P. (R. Pitman)