Academic journal article Journalism History

The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope Jr. and the National Enquirer

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope Jr. and the National Enquirer

Article excerpt

Vitek, Jack. The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope Jr. and the National Enquirer. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2008. 290 pp. $29.95.

The financial success of the National Enquirer and its impact on popular culture should place its founder, Generoso Pope Jr., alongside Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst among U.S. publishers, Jack Vitek argues in this book. An associate professor of journalism at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, he uses seventeen interviews with people who worked for Pope as his primary sources. Those interviews, plus secondary sources, describe the growth and evolution of the National Enquirer, but Pope remains a mystery, leaving his place in history unsettled.

Pope's father was a prominent New York businessman, with ties to the Mafia and to Italian fascists, and publisher of the newspaper II Progresso. Although Pope tried to follow in his father's footsteps, he became estranged from his family and began his own publishing career by buying the New York Enquirer, which was later renamed the National Enquirer. Initially, he published stories heavy on gore, crime, and the bizarre. That formula evolved to one that emphasized celebrities, ghosts, miracle cures, and rags-to-riches themes and brought the Enquirer a circulation of 5 million copies a week, rivaling the Wall Street Journal.

The magazine's real impact on American culture began with the 1977 death of Elvis Presley. The Enquirers coverage transformed him from a fading star into a cult icon and sold 6.7 million copies, its highest ever. His death was a big story for the mainstream media, too.

Over the next twenty years, the tabloids and the mainstream press converged in the types of stories they covered and the techniques they used to cover them. The death of Princess Grace Kelly in 1982 was a top story not only for the Enquirer but for the premier issue of USA Today. The Enquirer scored an exclusive with the "Monkey Business" photographs of Senator Gary Hart and Donna Rice, while reporters for the Washington Post and the Miami Herald used the tabloid tactics of shadowing and stakeouts to get the story of Hart's love affair. Now, with the Internet and cable news, Vitek argues, the tabloid style dominates journalism.

Exactly what role Pope played in the evolution of tabloid journalism is obscure. …

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