DATELINE: Checkbook Journalism to Kill-Fees
Biggest Issue Tease of Enquirer!
The Untold Story of the National Enquirer was not killed by a Pecker kill-fee, but by anthrax. This movie is a breath-taking trip down tabloid history.
You have to admire a documentary by Ric Burns that starts off with Herman Mankiewicz’s stunning film score for Citizen Kane, and then matches with a camera slowly moving up over a chain-link fence like the opening shot of Orson Welles’ classic.
The story of the National Enquirer and its original founder, Generoso Papa (an Italian immigrant who changed his name to Generoso Pope) actually laid groundwork for the Godfather Don Corleone (whom he resembled in character). Pope was pals with the Mob but claimed never to belong. He was an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and Benito Mussolini.
However, this film is really about his genius and ruthless and cold-blooded son, Gene Pope, Junior. Any resemblance between this Pope and the Vatican is strictly distinctive. Pope went through several wives, disowned and was disowned by his mother, and found himself the apple of his father’s eye—thereby cut out of the will by his brothers.
The man who made the National Enquirer a scandal sheet of influence predates the present kingpin and Trump ally, David Pecker, who has killed stories to help his president. A young Trump is seen in a clip, disparaging the National Enquirer.
The original owner, Pope, would never have condoned such a mad idea.
His son, Gene Junior, went to MIT and finished in two years. What? College entrance hanky-panky back in the 1940s? It seems so.
Gene borrowed money from his mobster godfather in real life, Frank Costello, and bought the New York Inquirer, like Citizen Kane. A marketing genius, he soon tried the “gore” story approach and made it work. You had horror that made the Enquirer’s bad rep and took years of new marketing to alter.
Gene transformed his newspaper two or three times but found the notion of supermarkets to coincide with his “gossip” approach. The inquiring minds of America were hooked in the check-out line.
Pope moved to Florida and made it tabloid heaven. He created checkbook journalism and used ruthless and inventive methods to spy on celebrities. His pinnacle was the notorious Elvis in his casket photo.
A three-pack cigarette addict and workaholic Type A personality, he didn’t last long. A massive heart attack seemed to stymie the Enquirer, but it took terrorism in 2001 with anthrax to destroy everything, including archives.
The film ends with the bouncy music of Brasil, which is fitting. This is a complete documentary, completely satisfying in every way.