All the News That Seemed Unfit to Print
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Somewhere in Kalamazoo, Elvis weeps: The Weekly World News is folding.
The Weekly World News was not one of those sleazy tabloids that cover tawdry celebrity scandals. It was a sleazy tabloid that covered events that seemed to occur in a parallel universe, a fevered dream world where pop culture mixed with urban legends, conspiracy theories and hallucinations. Maybe WWN played fast and loose with the facts, but somehow it captured the spirit of the age -- and did it in headlines as perfect as haiku:
"DEAD ROCK STARS RETURN ON GHOST PLANE!"
"BLIND MAN REGAINS SIGHT AND DUMPS UGLY WIFE!"
The most creative newspaper in American history, the Weekly World News broke the story that Elvis faked his death and was living in Kalamazoo, Mich. It also broke the story that the lost continent of Atlantis was found near Buffalo. And the story that Hillary Clinton was having a love affair with P'lod, an alien with a foot-long tongue. And countless other incredible scoops.
None of these stories was, in a strictly technical sense, true, which explains why the Weekly World News never won a Pulitzer Prize. But in its glorious heyday in the late 1980s, the supermarket tabloid amazed and amused a million readers a week.
But that was then. Now, with circulation plunging below 90,000, American Media, which owns WWN, has pulled the plug. The Aug. 27 issue will be the last. After that, the Weekly World News will be as dead as Elvis, maybe deader.
WWN's cult followers are mad. How mad? Almost as mad as Ed Anger, WWN's perpetually enraged right-wing nut-job columnist. Anger started every column by announcing exactly how angry he was. "I'm madder than Batman with a run in his tights." Or: "I'm madder than a gay football hero on a date with the homecoming queen." Or his favorite: "I'm pig-biting mad."
"I'm pig-biting mad at the demise of Weekly World News," says Joe Garden, features editor of the Onion, a satirical newspaper much influenced by WWN. "They really knew how to take hold of a premise and go as far as humanly possible with it. It was beautiful."
"12 U.S. SENATORS ARE SPACE ALIENS!"
In 1999, somebody taped that WWN story to a wall in the Senate press gallery, where it amused the press corps, although some scribes griped that the paper had underestimated the number of aliens in the Senate by at least three or four. Reporters loved the Weekly World News. Many fantasized about working for it and casting aside the tired old conventions of journalism, such as printing facts.
"Mainstream journalists read WWN and dreamed about killing the county sewer-system story they were working on and writing about a swamp monster or a 65-pound grasshopper," says Derek Clontz, who was a Weekly World News editor for 15 years.