Royal wedding bombshell, the CIA’s Trump assassination plot, and the stars really are like us, in this week’s dubious tabloids

There are lies, damn lies, and tabloid exclusives.

“FOUND!” screams the cover of this week’s National Enquirer, claiming a “bombshell” scoop about Prince Harry’s bride-to-be, American actress Meghan Markle.

“Man-Eater Meghan’s Secret First Hubby!” the front page raves. “The hush-hush annulment! How she hid past from husband No.2! Poor Harry will be Husband No.3!”

There’s nothing unequivocal about these headlines, nothing suggesting the least bit of doubt, especially with the heavily pixilated photo of the newly discovered ex-husband, with the promise: “His story inside!” You have to plough through almost two pages of hyper-ventilating excitement before you reach the tell-tale sentence near the article’s end: “ . . . if the explosive claim of Meghan’s hidden husband is proved to be true . . .” Wait, what?

The Enquirer claims to have found Markle’s previously unknown first husband, and then admits the story might not be true? So what does Markle’s supposed ex-husband say? “When approached for comment at his home on the East Coast, he became agitated at the prospect of being exposed.” Just the reaction you’d expect from someone who has never met Markle and wonders why he’s been ambushed by a tabloid reporter.

“He later denied the relationship.” Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

The Enquirer has never shied away from identifying subjects in tabloid scandals, and would not hesitate to publish a photograph of the alleged ex-husband – if he existed. Everything in this story points to the Enquirer taking a random internet rumor and running with it, and using a barely-plausible subject's denial as evidence of the ex-husband’s existence. Read the rest

Trump’s Fixer, Killer Clintons, and What Comey Didn’t Reveal, in this week’s fact-challenged tabloids

Not all is as it seems in this week’s dubious tabloids, as ulterior motives and hidden agendas mark a couple of the more notable stories.

Why does the National Enquirer attack recent Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ronan Farrow as a “hypocrite” allegedly “covering for pervert uncle”? Farrow’s uncle John – actress Mia Farrow’s brother – was reportedly jailed for 25 years in 2013 for sex abuse, but the Enquirer makes journalist Ronan its target by claiming “he’s remained silent about his uncle.”

Apart from the fact that this is not the sort of family news anyone would shout from the rooftops, why would the Enquirer choose to attack an otherwise respected journalist? It’s a pre-emptive strike because Farrow is considering making the supermarket tabloids his next target, exposing the nefarious methods they use to dig their dirt. It’s a warning shot over his bow, and doubtless not the last.

“Trump Fixer’s Secrets & Lies” is the Enquirer cover story, inside promising “Trump Fixer Tells All!” But the president’s personal attorney Michael Cohen doesn’t “tell all,” in fact he doesn’t tell anything to the Enquirer. It’s yet another politically-motivated Trump-fawning feature painting Cohen as the villain and Trump as an innocent bystander, in anticipation of the president cutting all ties with his former mouthpiece.

“Some are questioning Cohen’s role,” the Enquirer reports, “alleging blackmail, threats, hush-money payoffs – and even collusion with Russia!” The only thing the story lacks is a slug at the bottom proclaiming: “Donald Trump Endorses This Message."

“What Comey Didn’t Reveal In His Book!” screams a headline on the cover of the Enquirer, promising fresh revelations about the former FBI chief. Read the rest

Melania humiliated, a JFK conspiracy bombshell, and beautiful people in this week’s dubious tabloids

Is a seismic shift underway at the Trump-loving supermarket tabloids?

For the past two years American Media Inc’s National Enquirer and Globe magazines have slavishly served as Trump’s attack dogs, unwavering defenders and unofficial mouthpieces for the White House. Trump, good friends with AMI publisher David Pecker, has suggested that the Enquirer deserves a Pulitzer Prize, and AMI returned the love by buying off the president’s alleged mistress and a source claiming a Trump extra-marital pregnancy, and killing their stories in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Which makes this week’s Globe all the more remarkable, as it devotes its cover story to Trump’s alleged mistresses in a story that does not even attempt to challenge their claims, let alone denounce the women as liars and con-jobs, as Trump has previously done.

Trump’s special relationship with AMI suggests that this story has his blessing, and it’s positioned as a slap in the face – and perhaps, as a warning – to his long-suffering First Lady. “Humiliated Melania!” screams the cover, above the teaser: “Shocking reason she’ll NEVER divorce Trump!”

The answer is so far from shocking, it’s banal: “Trump’s third wife will swallow her pride and endure public humiliation for the sake of their 12-year-old son, Barron.” What’s surprising, however, is the rag’s blithe acceptance of Trump’s long-contested affairs. “Melania wasn’t blindsided by the billionaire politician’s womanizing ways,” claims the Globe, which adds that Trump’s reported affairs with porn star Stormy Daniels and a Playboy pinup did “not surprise” Melania. Read the rest

Prince Charles’ four love children, the Clintons’ corruption, and who needs Brad Pitt anyway, in this week’s dubious tabloids

Why bother breaking fresh news when you can refurbish old stories and pass them off as new?

Claiming to expose a “Chappaquiddick autopsy cover-up,” the National Enquirer cover screams: “Ted’s Lover Mary Jo Was Pregnant.” It’s a myth as old as the tragedy 49 years ago, and the Enquirer presents no evidence that Mary Jo Kopechne was even Ted Kennedy’s lover, let alone that she was pregnant. Furthermore, her coroner found no signs of a pregnancy, and there was no autopsy – at the request of her parents.

The Enquirer goes even further into the realm of fantasy, however, suggesting that “Kennedy deliberately drove off bridge to save run for the Presidency.” Because it makes perfect sense for a man who can afford a hit-man and who had aides skilled at dirty tricks to risk his own life driving his car off a bridge.

Not quite as antique, the Enquirer goes back to 1992 to break the news that “Pilot John Travolta cheats death in midair crisis.” It’s billed as an “Enquirer World Exclusive,” which might amuse the Orlando Sentinel in Florida, which first broke this story in 1995. Kudos to the Enquirer for finally telling the story, under the glorious banner: “FIRST TO KNOW.”

The Globe joins in the tabloid stroll down memory lane with its cover story about the heir to Britain’s throne: “Found! Charles’ 4 Secret Love Children!” The story, billed as the result of a “special two-year investigation,” lists four alleged illegitimate children of Prince Charles – two of whom are well known though highly questionable claimants; the other two are apparently new, but their allegations are exceedingly difficult to confirm. Read the rest

Melania’s agony, Meghan’s betrayal, and how love changed Prince Harry, in this week’s dubious celebrity magazines

“I’m tired of the lies,” says Melania Trump on the cover of this week’s Us magazine, below the headline: “Melania’s Agony.”

“Will she stay in the marriage?” asks the mag, following a week of humiliating revelations from the president’s alleged former mistresses.

It’s a fair question, but when you read the four-page article, you realize that there isn’t a single quote from Melania in the piece. Not even: “I’m tired of the lies.” If she is indeed “tired of the lies” (and who wouldn’t be in her position?) she may be even more weary of seeing fictional quotes attributed to her on the cover of magazines that claim to be a rung above the supermarket tabloids.

Us magazine’s insights into the Trump marriage come from a body language expert who interprets such signals as Melania descending from Air Force One in Florida on March 23 ahead of her husband. The message is clear, says the expert: “She made the decision that I’m not going to be last, and my son is not going to be last.” Or perhaps she was just desperate to get to a bathroom, or Trump asked her to go first, or she was helping son Barron down the stairway, or was feeling air-sick and wanted to get off the plane . . . there are a hundred reasons why she may have deplaned first. Just because any sane woman would be miserable if married to Donald Trump doesn’t give Us free reign to put words in her mouth. Read the rest

Hillary Clinton’s funeral plans, and how to be like Donald Trump, in this week’s dubious tabloids

The tabloids take a running jump before leaping to some pretty wild conclusions this week – one of the few things they do well.

The National Enquirer has a series of stories based on Olympic-level leaping. "Scientology horror – Suri saw it all.” No, she didn’t. Tom Cruise’s daughter saw nothing of the alleged “brainwashing,” “threats” and “bizarre rituals” at the pseudo-religion’s headquarters, because like her father, she would have been kept far from any unsightly scenes or behavior, and also because she was only a toddler at the time. I challenge any 18-month-old to say: “Daddy, that cult member has been working here for 16 hours suffering inhumane living and working conditions.” Not going to happen.

“Cops Quiz O.J. in Goldman Dad Murder for Hire Plot.” No, they haven’t quizzed O.J. about his supposed scheme to kill murder victim Ronald Goldman’s father, Fred. Even the Enquirer story claims that prison authorities have only interviewed the jailhouse snitch making the allegation that O.J. wanted to hire a hit man, and have not quizzed Simpson. And the Nevada Dept of Corrections denies any investigation whatsoever.

“Army Thanks Enquirer for Exposing Troops’ Crimes!” No, it didn’t. The Army thanked the Enquirer for agreeing to give its investigators photographs that allegedly show U.S. forces in Afghanistan abusing enemy corpses, but that’s not the same as thanking the rag for making as-yet-unproven allegations of what it terms “morally offensive crimes.” Because we all know how the Enquirer is a bastion of American morality.

“Proof Teddy Could Have Saved Mary Jo!” No, there’s no such proof. Read the rest

Michael Jackson is alive, Hillary is boozing, and a Buckingham Palace Sex Ring, in this week’s fact-challenged tabloids

When Hillary Clinton slipped on steps polished slick by centuries of wear while clad in smooth-soled sandals during her visit to India’s Jahaz Mahal last week, it was clear to every observer that her left shoe had simply lost traction as she almost fell.

“Brain Cancer Battle!” screams this week's Globe cover, with its own medical interpretation of her stumble from half-way across the world. But that’s not all. “She’s back on booze,” reports the magazine for good measure, deciding that her near-fall can best be explained by a combination of “a killer brain tumor” and her decision “to throw caution to the wind and enjoy herself – by drinking!” Why they don’t think she’s shooting 8-balls and sniffing glue is beyond me.

The award-winning Globe team of fact-checkers must be on vacation this week, because its exclusive on “Meghan Kidnap Terror!” reporting that “Special Forces Foil Plot to Snatch Harry’s Bride” turns out to have no plot and no terror: Miss Markle simply underwent training in a kidnap scenario, as have most of the British Royal Family, to better appreciate how to act in the event of a real kidnapping.

“Michael Jackson is alive!” claims a Globe report, which even the rag admits is “mind-boggling,” alongside an autopsy photo of the pop icon beneath the words: “Real or Fake?” . . . a caption which the magazine should seriously consider affixing to every story. Jackson’s family and estate are allegedly in on the hoax. So where is the singer if he’s still alive? Read the rest

Burt Reynolds’ skid marks, Prince Charles’ long-lost brother, and another Obama cover-up in this week’s tabloids

The British Royal Family is nothing more than a lurid soap opera to the tabloids, which this week come up with a few wild and fact-free plot twists of their own.

The tabloids have long indulged their salacious imaginations at the expense of the Royals, who are loathe to sue for libel, exposing them in recent months to stories of Prince Harry’s “real father” being at least two different men, Prince Charles plotting Princess Diana’s death, and Charles’ wife Camilla being locked up in a mental institution.

This week German TV repairman-turned-private eye Guenther Focke, aged 71, claims that he is Prince Charles’ long-lost brother, the result of his mother's World War II fling with Prince Phillip, according to the Globe, which includes the headline: “DNA Test Bombshell!” The bombshell? Focke is demanding a DNA test. The “exclusive interview” with Focke might be more gripping if he hadn’t been making this claim since 1995, and penned a book on the subject in 2008: Not In Her Majesty’s Service. In those past 22 years not one iota of evidence has confirmed Focke’s claims, but that’s good enough for the Globe to revive the ancient allegation.

“William & Kate Crowned King and Queen!” screams the cover of the National Enquirer, in a story that spectacularly ignores every known fact and law in the Royal line of succession. A “top secret meeting of government leaders” from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand meets next month to force Queen Elizabeth to abdicate and “cast their votes in secret” for Prince William to take the throne, “and there’s nothing the Queen – desperate for Charles, her eldest son, to succeed her – can do.” Let’s be clear on this: The Queen has vowed never to abdicate; Charles is next in line for the throne; and there is nothing foreign government leaders can do to change the British line of succession, unless the British Parliament ever votes to abolish the monarchy. Read the rest

How denialists weaponize media literacy and what to do about it

danah boyd's SXSW Edu keynote, What Hath We Wrought? builds on her essay from 2017 about the relationship of media literacy education to the rise of conspiracy theories and the great epistemological rift in which significant numbers of people believe things that are clearly untrue, from climate denial to flat-earthing. Read the rest

Prince Harry’s love child, Trump’s revenge, and Teri Hatcher homeless, in this week’s highly dubious tabloids

Truth bears little relation to this week’s big tabloid exclusives, which give fake news a bad name.

“Surrounded by traitors!” screams the National Enquirer cover. “Donald & Melania Fight Back!” No, they don’t. The official magazine of the Oval Office complains at length about the “backstabbers” attacking Trump, but then offers no instance of Trump or Melania hitting back. It’s just a paranoid rant that sounds like it could have been dictated by Trump himself.

“Prince Harry’s love child wrecks wedding!” proclaims the Globe cover, and it’s true that an illegitimate child could throw a spanner in the works of Harry and Meghan Markle’s coming nuptials. But this soufflé of a story cites an unnamed woman and her unnamed child and their unnamed lawyer supposedly writing privately to Kensington Palace. Despite the appalling lack of detail, the rag manages to include a photo of a red-haired four-year-old “chip off the old block,” without actually stating the obvious: that it’s a random red-haired child, and not Harry’s. Yet another story conjured out of thin air that somehow eluded the massed Royal press pack in London.

Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher is “homeless” and “living in van!” states the Enquirer, with photographic evidence of the actress sitting outside her vehicle sipping tea and reaching for a book by the beach in Malibu. The Enquirer tries to duck the minor detail that this “homeless” actress still owns her $7 million Los Angeles mansion, and maybe just enjoys hanging in her retro VW van at the beach for a few hours. Read the rest

Prince Harry’s Real Dad and Tom Cruise’s Sex Guru, in this week’s tabloids

“Oprah Answers Everything!” screams the cover of People magazine, which seems a slight exaggeration since she doesn’t explain why my heating system only breaks down on the coldest days of the year, or why Easter Islanders erected the Moai statues. But the article answers about as much as any story does in this week’s fact-challenged tabloids.

“This is Harry’s Real Dad!” proclaims the cover of the National Enquirer, revealing that former Guards officer Mark Dyer is Prince Harry’s biological father. This comes from the same publication that has been telling us for several years that former cavalry officer James Hewitt is "Harry’s Real Father,” as it did on August 12, 2016. As evidence for Dyer’s paternity, the Enquirer cites the fact that both are red-heads. By that logic, Lucille Ball must be Harry’s biological mother.

There’s as little sense in the Globe cover story: “FBI Raids Scientology Celebrity Center!” Alongside photos of Tom Cruise and John Travolta it adds: “Darkest secrets of Hollywood’s top megastars exposed!” You have to read almost to the end of the two-page exposé to learn that the FBI raid that seized 20,000 documents occurred in 1977 – years before Cruise, Travolta, Will Smith or Kirstie Alley joined the self-professed Church, so their darkest secrets are unlikely to be exposed just yet.

Cruise also appears in this week’s Enquirer in a story claiming that the Hollywood action hero has been seeking sex tips from British porn-star-turned-sex-guru Marcus London, who terms himself a “vagician” for his ability to pleasure women. Read the rest

Prince Charles’ love child, Jack Ruby’s faked murder, and Jennifer Aniston’s shattered world, in this week’s tabloids

The sleazy hook-ups, blazing rows and secret love child of Britain’s Royals, in this week’s tabloids

Decapitating Kim Kardashian, Paul McCartney drives his daughter insane, and cat litter beauty treatments, in this week’s tabloids

What do Jesus Christ, Herman Munster, TinkerBell and Elvis Presley have in common? Readers of this week’s Globe magazine can choose between life-like statuettes of all four, and I can’t help wondering which will be the biggest seller, and what that might tell us about those tabloid lovers.

The bronze Jesus lights up as a “radiant testimony to faith,” while Elvis sings, Herman Munster plays his TV show’s theme song, and TinkerBell . . . well, she just stands there looking cute, inviting you to “put your faith in pixie dust,” which is probably not dissimilar to what Jesus is offering.

Who are these tabloid readers, who are also met with ads offering a mirrored music box to present to “My Granddaughter,” a KISS decanter set, liver cleanse pills, a walk-in bathtub, compression socks and a no-collateral $35,000 loan? Is their target audience really aging diabetic grandmother glam rock fans with a nostalgia for ‘50s pop music and ‘60s TV?

The tabloids certainly continue to linger nostalgically over ancient stories, re-telling them as if new again. “Got Him!” screams the cover of the National Enquirer, now accusing actor Robert Wagner of the “premeditated murder” of wife Natalie Wood, and promising that “new evidence” means the actor “will die in jail.” No, he won’t. The “new evidence” is yet another rehash of old information, whipped up by the co-author of a 2011 book about Wood’s death. Don’t expect to see Wagner doing a perp walk any time soon.

O.J. Simpson has vowed to “decapitate” Kim Kardashian, claims the Enquirer, which will come as no surprise to its readers who last year were told that O.J. Read the rest

How a killer fled the FBI with a condom and hair remover, in this week’s tabloids

Tabloid stories usually have some vague, distant relationship with the smallest sliver of a fact, but some are such ludicrous fantasies that they deserve special attention.

“Inside Versace Killer’s Bag of Death!” is one such a gem. The National Enquirer tells us, in its trademark ungrammatical style, that the backpack belonging to the fashion designer’s killer Andrew Cunanan “holds key to shocking slaughter!” As the bag’s contents are “unveiled for the first time,” we learn of the “explosive evidence” inside “the killer’s sack that contained everything he needed for a quick escape” as the assassin “planned to flee the country.” Fighting back our excitement, barely able to breathe, we learn that Cunanan’s getaway kit comprised “a brochure for a hotel on Catalina Island, Calif., a bottle of Nair hair remover, a lubricated condom and an X-Acto knife without the blade.”

No passport (which the Enquirer fails to mention was found near the crime scene inside a red Chevy truck Cunanan had stolen.) No giant wad of cash. And no weapon (though perhaps a bladeless X-Acto knife could be used to poke people pretty hard). An empty envelope, and a receipt for sliced meat, cheese and crackers, completed Cunanan’s supposed “bag of death.” One can see how the Enquirer believes that Cunanan planned to flee the country, because he had a brochure for an island in the Pacific (albeit 26 miles off the coast from Los Angeles). But the clincher is the Bottle of Nair: if Cunanan could use depilatory cream to make unsightly hair disappear, it’s a short step to making himself disappear. Read the rest

The future of computational propaganda

On January 17, 2017, Girl 4 Trump USA joined Twitter. She was silent for a week, but on January 24, she suddenly got busy, posting an average of 1,289 tweets a day, many of which were in support of U.S. President Donald Trump. By the time Twitter figured out that Girl 4 Trump USA was a bot, “she” had tweeted 34,800 times. Twitter deleted the account, along with a large number of other Twitter bots with “MAGA,” “deplorable,” and “trump” in the handle and avatar images of young women in bikinis or halter tops, all posting the same headlines from sources like the Kremlin broadcaster RT. But Twitter can’t stop the flood of bots on its platform, and the botmakers are getting smarter about escaping detection.

What’s going on? That’s what Sam Woolley is finding out. Woolley, who recently joined Institute for the Future as a Research Director, was the Director of Research at the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University. In this episode of For Future Reference, we asked Sam to share highlights of his research showing how political botnets — what he calls computational propaganda — are being used to influence public opinion.

Listen to the podcast interview with Sam Woolley here. Subscribe to the IFTF podcast on iTunes | RSS | Download MP3 Read the rest

Celebrity UFO sightings, secret witnesses, and cold cases solved in this week’s tabloids

What’s old is new again in this week’s tabloids, which plunder the past for today’s headlines.

Child pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in 1996, but the National Enquirer claims that its "investigation finally solves” the slaying. The magazine, which has in the past alternately blamed JonBenet’s mother, father, brother, and various strangers for the slaying, insists it has now “cracked the cold case after 21 years,” under the headline: “This Evil Monster Murdered JonBenet.”

The killer? A now-dead neighbor who was thoroughly scrutinized by police during their investigation, and dismissed as a suspect. Why is Glenn Meyer now fingered as the murderer? Because his ex-wife, Charlotte Hey, claims: “When I asked him if he murdered her, he would just smile at me. He wouldn’t deny it.” Sounds like a confession to me.

“Queen Survives Assassin’s Bullet!” screams the Globe cover, failing to mention that the incident – alleged by a former New Zealand police officer – occurred 36 years ago, in 1981. British police are reportedly stepping up security, which seems appropriate 36 years after the event.

Equally ancient is the National Examiner cover story claiming to finally solve the Natalie Wood “murder.” The actress drowned in 1981, and the tabloids have spent decades trying – and failing – to pin the blame on her husband, actor Robert Wagner. The Examiner claims that “new testimony could put Wagner away!” But we’ve seen this supposedly new evidence before. Marilyn Wayne, who allegedly heard a woman’s voice shouting: “Help me, I’m drowning!” on the night of Wood’s death, is not a “secret witness” as the Examiner claims. Read the rest

A Royal werewolf, embattled Clintons, and vampires coming, in this week’s tabloids

Prince Charles fears he’s becoming a werewolf, the KGB tried to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, and Meryl Streep is going blind, according to this week’s reality-challenged tabloids.

It’s the rare week when the Trump-loving tabloids don’t indulge in paeans of praise for the president, but they still gleefully hurl incendiary allegations at the Clintons.

The feds’ probe into the Clinton Foundation “explodes,” claims the Globe cover, with the “secret arrest” of Bill Clinton's brother Roger. Is Roger Clinton’s 2016 DUI arrest truly “secret” when it was reported on at the time by The Washington Post, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, TMZ . . and the National Enquirer?

Roger was sentenced to two days in jail, ordered to take an alcohol education program, and given three years probation. Yet the Globe claims that federal prosecutors are now threatening to revoke Roger Clinton’s probation if he doesn’t “turn stool pigeon and spill whatever he knows about any illegal actions” by the Clintons. Can somebody please explain to the Globe that the feds can’t revoke Roger Clinton's probation for saying he knows nothing about his brother’s charity. And why would he know anything anyway? Sheer wishful thinking.

The National Enquirer cover promises “never-before-seen crime scene photos inside California’s house of horrors!” The headline warns readers of a “chilling look inside putrid hellhole.” And what do the photos show? A scattering of brightly colored trash bags strewn across the family’s front yard (outside, not inside the “putrid hellhole”) and a shot taken through a glass door revealing an unremarkable table and some shelves. Read the rest

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