Celeb Rag Shocker: Us's Exposé Exposé!

Us Weekly gleefully lit into its competitors in its May 14 issue, but the gossip mag makes its own share of blunders.
Us Weekly gleefully lit into its competitors in its May 14 issue, but the gossip mag makes its own share of blunders.
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 28, 2007

Eleven months ago, In Touch magazine ran a "Breaking News" cover about Jennifer Aniston that declared "JEN LOOKS PREGNANT!"

In January, another cover blared: "FRIENDS WORRY BRITNEY'S PREGNANT." In April, Katie Holmes got the treatment: "KATIE LOOKS PREGNANT AGAIN."

In Touch wasn't alone on the bump-watch front. In the space of one year, after Angelina Jolie gave birth to baby Shiloh, Life & Style, owned by the same company, announced four times that Jolie again looked pregnant, was trying to get pregnant, was wearing loose-fitting clothing or nixing foods that pregnant women avoid. In 2005, Star said Jessica Simpson was "Finally PREGNANT!" In 2006, OK! magazine screamed: "J.LO TO BE A MOM!" Yet during this blizzard of cover headlines, these stars had given birth only to bogus stories.

While breathless hype is hardly unknown in the celebrity-rag business, a rival's finger-pointing campaign is rare indeed. Us Weekly recently started razzing the competition with such weekly spreads as "How They Faked the Baby 'News.' "

"When we put it all together and saw how many times they've played this game of trickery, it was pretty shocking," says Us Weekly Editor Janice Min. "Would you continue to buy laundry detergent that didn't work week after week?"

Clearly, this is not simply an exercise in selfless investigative sleuthing. In fact, Jann Wenner, the media mogul who owns Us Weekly, ordered up the attacks. Min, whose factual track record is not unblemished, concedes that her attempt to tarnish the other magazines amounts to "a business decision."

Editors at the other magazines refused to address the details. "Did I miss the memo from Us Weekly saying they want to edit everyone's magazines now? They should concentrate on their own," Richard Spencer, editor of In Touch, says in a statement.

Richard Valvo, a spokesman for Star, says the magazine "would never willfully or knowingly print anything that we deem not to be true." He calls it "amusing" that Min "would single out publications in the same category as Us Weekly" in light of her own record of corrections. (More on that below.)

Life & Style editors declined to comment. A spokesman for OK! did not respond to a request for comment.

At stake in the sniping is market share in a burgeoning business that almost seems to outstrip the available supply of celebrity couplings and uncouplings. At the end of 2006, Us Weekly was selling 1.75 million copies a week, a 40 percent increase over three years earlier. Star's circulation was 1.5 million, a 26 percent jump in three years. But the most dramatic increases were among two magazines launched in the last five years: In Touch (1.3 million), up 151 percent since 2003; and Life & Style (753,000), up 157 percent during that period. People remained the industry leader with sales of 3.7 million.

The formula is fairly simple. Stars must be seen falling in and out of love, cheating or being cheated on, dieting or blimping up, bouncing back or melting down. Weddings, divorces, pregnancies, births, drug problems and rehab stints are huge. The problem is that the two dozen or so first-name luminaries whose faces move magazines -- Paris and Lindsay and Britney and Nicole and their boyfriends and ex-boyfriends -- can stir up only so much intrigue week after week. So some of the magazines take liberties.

"It's clear what the editorial agenda is -- to spin fantasy under the illusion of news," Min says.


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