Like clockwork, tabloid magazines hit the newsstands on Wednesdays with no shortage of cover stories that are always sensational and often shockingly personal.
Nothing is out of bounds. Stories about breakups, divorces, extra-marital flings, pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and worse are steady staples.
In times past, celebrities rarely responded to tabloid stories. As the old Hollywood adage went, any publicity is good publicity as long as your name is spelled right.
But the Internet has changed the game.
Within hours, Twitter is buzzing with the rumors. Before long, the reports take on a life of their own. Copycat gossip sites clog the Internet, reporting the stories as fact, without any follow up, or confirmation.
But it doesn’t stop there. Even mainstream outlets like the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and USA Today pick up and report rumors generated by tabloids.
At the same time, social media have given celebs an outlet. They are addressing the rumors in growing numbers, no longer willing to take the outright fake or exaggerated stories lying down.
Angelina Jolie was once the queen of fake tabloid pregnancies but as IM reported in February, a new generation is taking over that includes Katy Perry, Kendall Jenner and Jennifer Lawrence.
Perry, 30, was the subject of screaming headlines last February in OK magazine, the source of dozens of fake celeb stories.
Jenner also joined the club the same week with a fake pregnancy story in Star magazine, also the purveyor of numerous scandalous scoops, almost all of which never turn out to be true.
Lawrence recently scored her first pregnancy cover, as well. The actress, according to OK! magazine, was knocked up by boyfriend Chris Martin, the consciously uncoupled ex of Gwyneth Paltrow. Totally fake, says Lawrence.
Last month, Sarah Michelle Gellar slammed Star magazine, again. It reported that she and husband Freddie Prinze, Jr. were heading for a divorce. The couple celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary in September.
As always, the story was attributed to unnamed “sources.”
When contacted for comment by the Star, Gellar’s rep strongly denied the allegation. But the tabloid ran the story anyway–without the denial, the rep said.
Graham Johnson, a former reporter with Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid News of the World provided some insight into the business.
He said in a May interview that five to 10 percent of the stories published by the tabloid were made up. As many as half, he added, were embellished or partly made up.
British libel laws are stricter than U.S. libel laws. A UK plaintiff doesn’t have to prove the story was published with actual malice as required here. As a result, celebs frequently sue UK tabs for defamation and occasionally U.S. tabs, as well.
In some of the more celebrated cases here and abroad, Tom Cruise sued Life & Style for $50 million for reporting he abandoned daughter Suri after divorcing Katie Holmes.
Soccer star David Beckham sued In Touch Weekly for libel and slander for claiming he had sex with hookers
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie also filed suit against the now defunct News of The World for reporting they had broken up.
Most celebs stop short of suing because cases are costly and difficult to prove, especially in the United States. But that hasn’t stopped them from shaming tabloids for errant reports.
In another celebrated instance, Clooney called London’s Daily Mail on the carpet in July last year for reporting that the mother of his then-fiance, Amal Alamuddin, opposed their marriage on religious grounds.
The Mail retracted the story, apologized and deleted it from its Web site.
Clooney said the issue went beyond an apology. The report proved the tabloid “makes up its facts to the detriment of its readers and to all the publications that blindly reprint them.”
Not everyone gets Clooney’s results, but here’s a list of celebs culled from the Internet who have taken on the tabs over the past few years, starting with today.
Jennifer Lynn Farley of “Jersey Shore” fame, blasted Star for claiming she was drinking while pregnant with her second child. The supposed incident took place at a club in September, but Farley, who is known as “JWoww,” said on Instagram she wasn’t even pregnant at the time. “You truly disgust me,” she wrote to the magazine.
Tish Cyrus the mother of wild child Miley Cyrus took Life & Style claimed to task for claiming she was “desperate” to get Miley into rehab. She even went so far as to call Miley’s old boyfriends to ask for help. Tish called the story “absolutely bogus.”
Miley Cyrus also took on the tabs earlier this year after she appeared on the cover of a magazine with the headline “Miley’s Terror: Pregnant & Forced Into Rehab.”
Taylor Swift lashed out at the tabloids in August. She blasted OK! magazine for claiming Swift was making a “pregnancy announcement.” But the announcement had nothing to do with her. It involved two friends. “This misleading headline and your choice of words in labeling me are why we need feminism in 2015,” she wrote on Twitter.
Iggy Azalea, the breakout rapper from Australia, also faced down the tabs in August. A report claimed she was a heroin addict because she was spotted with alleged “track marks” on her arm “associated with LONG-TERM heroin abuse,” the tab breathlessly reported. “WHAT?! LOL”, Azalea responded on Twitter.
David Beckham hit back at a tabloid in August a year ago for a story criticizing his parenting skills. It claimed his four-year-old daughter Harper was still using a pacifier. The article included a quot from a parenting expert warning of potential speech and dental problems. “Why do people feel they have the right to criticize a parent about their own children without having any facts ??” he wrote on Twitter.
Kim Kardashian, who lives and dies by media coverage, also has had her fill of fake stories. In February a year ago, she blasted OK magazine for reporting she’d had butt injections. “Making fun of me pregnant & making fun of me trying to lose weight now shame on you,” she she wrote on Twitter.
Momager Kris Jenner has also defended her kids from time to time. A few years ago, she blasted tabloids for printing “baseless and disgusting rumors” about the family. Chief among them is a recurring report that daughter Khloe was fathered by O.J. Simpson. She posted a video on her Keek account, titled “Enough is Enough.” “I do my best to ignore the harmful, nasty and often mean-spirited tabloid rumors surrounding me and my family, but I can no longer remain silent amid the blatant lies I am constantly being asked about,” she said.
Jennifer Aniston, perhaps more than any other celeb, has been bombarded by fake or highly exaggerated tabloid stories. She started firing back a few years ago. “All that stuff, it’s toxic,” she told the Associated Press. “It never gets un-jarring, but you do have to not let it imprison you, which is possible, too.” Aniston has long been the target of bogus tabloid stories, including multiple reports that she is pregnant.
Shia LaBeouf engages in enough bad behavior to keep tabloids busy with legitimate news. Even so, mags are still compelled to make things up. OK! magazine once reported that LeBeouf was Ha Ha Café Comedy Club in North Hollywood, allegedly for heckling comics. His rep called the story “100 percent fictional and fabricated.” Shia had never been to the club and the manager said the incident never occurred. OK! published the article, anyway, said the rep, calling the story “complete nonsense.”
Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley were involved in a celebrated slap down with The New York Post for reporting that a “dysfunctional family getaway” triggered daugher Alexa Ray’s suicide attempt. “As much as we hate dignifying tabloid stories with a response, we feel we must set the record straight to protect our family. The story that ran in the New York Post on December 8th, and has been subsequently spread across the Internet, is filled with vicious lies and attempts to smear our character and that of our beloved daughter,” they said in a statement.
Kirstie Alley blasted The National Enquirer report in Oct. 2009 for suggesting she “collapsed” and “broke down in tears” over her weight, which it suggested was “life threatening.” “NO BREAKDOWN… NO CLOSE SOURCE… DID NOT GAIN BACK 105 LBS …” she tweeted.
Actress Evan Rachel Wood also had a run-in with The National Enquirer. In 2009, she charged that the tabloid printed outright “likes about her and her boyfriend Jamie Bell. The story alleged that Bell had agreed to an open marriage so she could pursue her desire for lesbian relationships. “FYI the national enquirer makes me sick,” she Tweeted in response. “I do not have an open marriage. They can take their lies and shove it. Sorry ladies.”
According to Johnson “a culture of fabrication” exists among tabloids. Even some of the best reporters at his paper fabricated stories, quotes, and parts of stories.
That culture has existed for decades, but the Internet and social media have intensified the pressure to make up scandalous news to attract readers. But if enough celebs speak out, it just may cause tabloids to pause before they print another outlandish story.
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