Media

Media

ALL THE DIRT THAT’S FIT TO PRINT — AND SOME THAT ISN’T

October 20 1975
Media

Media

ALL THE DIRT THAT’S FIT TO PRINT — AND SOME THAT ISN’T

October 20 1975

Media

ALL THE DIRT THAT’S FIT TO PRINT — AND SOME THAT ISN’T

The reporter could almost see the smoke coming out of the telephone. “I know the guy’s brother is dead,” insisted his editor at the other end, “but did you interview him?” And so another anecdote was added to the wacky, sometimes nightmarish annals of life and work at the National Enquirer, North America’s largest circulation weekly tabloid.

Those who work for the Enquirer, are well paid (reporters start at $22,000, editors at $30.000) but the job is definitely not for the meek. The paper has variously sent reporters up the Amazon to chase Indians with psychic powers, to explore Robinson Crusoe’s Island, and to the Arctic Circle to interview the Enquirer s most northerly subscriber. Staffers have climbed the Himalayas in search of the Abominable Snowman; smuggled the daughter of a retired U.S. admiral out of Russia; and pawed through Henry Kissinger’s garbage.

The weekly package may not win many Pulitzer prizes, but it is popular; 3.8 million Americans and 185,000 Canadians pay 30 cents to read it every week. “One reason for our success,” explains Iain Calder, recently appointed editor, “is that w'e don’t write for other journalists. We write for our readers.. We aren’t in the business of caressing our own egos.” By simply giving people a “bloody good read,” Calder says, the Enquirer has every chance ot reaching its ultimate goal of 20 million circulation. “Whatever it takes, we’ll do,” he adds, pointing to the $10 million the paper will spend next year on newsgathering.

Not surprisingly, the Enquirer s success on the newsstands has kept the company’s financial ledger solidly in the black. In 1974. the privately owned paper grossed a tidy $41 million. “This year,” says a company spokesman, “we hope to reach $50 million.” The Enquirer s major shareholder is Generoso Pope Jr., a 48-year-old father of five who lives in an ocean-front mansion, minutes away from head office in Lantana, Florida. Pope bought the paper—founded in 1926 by a Hearst advertising executive — and later transformed into an Italian-language weekly by Pope's father—for a mere $20,000 down payment in 1952—a daring, but obviously inspired acquisition.

The Enquirers winning editorial formula rarely changes. Every issue features a big front-page picture of some celebrity either coupling or uncoupling, a banner headline—best-selling issues invariably feature the word “predictions” in the largest possible type—plus half-a-dozen smaller headlines on subjects ranging from medical miracles (articles the staffers cynically refer to as “new hope for the dead” stories) to money-saving tips for shoppers. But scattered among the offbeat and bizarre are stories of interest by any standard ofjournalism. In one recent issue. Enquirer readers learned about Kim Novak’s new romance—she fell in love with her veterinarian while he was treating her horse. But they also discovered: a report on how lax inspectors passed tons of contaminated meat for consumption by U.S. servicemen; how president Jerry Ford doubled his own staff while calling for spending restraints in government; a new test developed in Britain that permits doctors to predict which women will run an increased risk of heart disease if they take the pill; and, for trivia lovers, two good things about mosquitoes.

Despite the sensational headlines, almost all of it is reliable. Enquirer reporters, like journalists everywhere, are reluctant to let brute fact get in the way of a good story, but the paper as fanatical about “backup”—checking and rechecking the facts of every major story, and finding additional sources to corroborate the opinions of experts.

“If God Almighty told me the earth was round,” says one editor, “I'd still have to get backup from three Nobel prizewinners and an archbishop to swear that it was really God I talked to.”

Invariably, however, the best stories never get in. Late last summer the Enquirer sent psychic performer Uri Geller (famous for bending keys without touching them) afloat in a balloon. He was to transmit his usual telepathic messages and readers were invited to observe any strange occurrences. Thousands of letters resulted and will form the basis of a future story. Not so with one reader’s letter. Not only did his old wristwatch start up at the right time, wrote the man, but simultaneously, for the first time in nine years of marriage, his wife had an orgasm. BILL DAMPIER.

The Rimouski Pimpernel

Guy Belanger stared at the fuzzy screen of his $700 color TV, then angrily switched it off. “Damn politicians,” he said. “They’re even trying to stop us from watching television.” Belanger, a 24-year-old truck driver who lives in Rimouski. Quebec, could be forgiven his anger. In recent weeks, his city has become the battleground of yet another constitutional war between Ottawa and Quebec. At issue this time is whether the federal or provincial government will control cable television in Quebec and—barring a political ceasefire—it may take the Supreme Court of Canada to determine the outcome. But with long winter nights ahead and the city’s picture tubes still fuzzy, Belanger and his fellow Rimouskois are growing increasingly impatient.

Rimouski’s troubles date back to 1972 when Quebec passed its own communications laws, duplicating the powers of the federal agency, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC). For every license granted by Ottawa, a second was issued by the Quebec Public Service Board (QPSB). The two systems coexisted peacefully until May. 1974. when the CRTC awarded Matane lumberyard owner François Dionne, 43, cable rights to Rimouski. Mont-Joli. Matane and the Matapedia Valley. Three months later, the QPSB likewise granted Matane and the Valley to Dionne, but gave the more profitable areas of Rimouski and Mont-Joli to Raymond D’Auteuil, a Rimouski businessman and brother-in-law of Quebec board president Yvon Cote.

Dionne immediately challenged the board’s decision in court—the first in a complex series of actions by both men and the respective governments. When the court rejected Dionne’s claim, Ottawa launched appeal procedures. The case is expected to wind up in Superior Court next spring.

Then, last August 13, the Quebec provincial court refused to issue a search warrant to federal authorities seeking to close down D’Auteuil’s operations. The following day, a warrant was issued by a superior court and D’Auteuil’s equipment, valued at $75,000, was seized. Quebec promptly provided D’Auteuil with a portable transmitter and assigned provincial police to guard it. By constantly shifting the locale of his three antennae (a fourth was placed openly atop the local police station) D’Auteuil, a former auto parts dealer, has so far managed to maintain cable service, and in the process has become something of a local folk hero. Despite poor reception, pro-D’Auteuil customers report to him the movements of federal inspectors, as they roam the countryside armed with the latest in electronic detection equipment. On one occasion, D’Auteuil even broadcast scenes of a federal march on his station over a community channel.

Federal authorities, however, are not enjoying this Keystone cops caper. Last summer in Ottawa, former federal communications minister Gerard Pelletier clashed openly with Quebec’s then-communications minister Jean-Paul L’Allier at a federal-provincial conference, bluntly accusing the province of attempting “an encroachment on federal powers.” Two weeks later, Premier Robert Bourassa replaced L’Allier with Denis Hardy—a move favorably interpreted in Ottawa as an effort to defuse the crisis. But while Hardy has avoided making provocative speeches, he has pledged to underwrite D’Auteuil’s legal expenses, expected to hit $100,000. And Bourassa recently insisted that the Rimouski case goes to the very heart of the cultural sovereignty issue.

In Ottawa, new federal communications minister, Pierre Juneau is seeking a political settlement. “It would be smart to solve this problem by means other than the courts,” he says. But Juneau, who sees Hardy as more moderate than his predecessor, admits the dispute “just won’t go away.” And Ottawa, he adds pointedly, is not dropping its legal action against D’Auteuil.

Legally, the federal position seems secure. A series of precedents dating back to 1932 gives the feds control over “the transmission and reception of signs, signals, pictures and sounds of all kinds by means of Hertzian waves.” The Broadcasting Act gives the CRTC power to regulate all matters of broadcasting, including cable. And last January, a federal court upheld Ottawa’s jurisdiction over the distribution of cable signals. “Picking a fight on this,” concludes Juneau, “is in nobody’s interest.”

Meanwhile back in Rimouski, 800 families are now plugged into D’Auteuil’s cable system. Wiring continues at the rate of 100 homes a week, and there’s a waiting list of 2,000. But for the Rimouskois, the issue is not so much whether Ottawa or Quebec controls cable signals, as whether they’ll be able to watch Guy Lafleur and the Canadiens this winter. And while their loyalties undoubtedly lie with fellow townsman D’Auteuil, they would probably agree with plaintiff Dionne’s assessment of the situation. Said Dionne, recently returned from a hair transplant operation in New York: “It’s enough to make you tear your hair out.”

ROBERT LEWIS/RALPH NOSEWORTHY