For once, the National Enquirer may hold the moral high ground in a spat with a celebrity.
Sarah Jessica Parker is the latest prominent figure to suggest that the Enquirer’s reporting tactics went beyond the pale. In an Instagram post on Thursday, the former “Sex and the City” star went after the tabloid for seeking comment about an alleged argument she had with her husband, actor Matthew Broderick, while the couple were in London.
“Over a decade of the same untrue, disgraceful nonsense,” Parker wrote to her 5.4 million Instagram followers. Her post included an email from the Enquirer, which read, “The National Enquirer is working on a story that reports that Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were caught on camera in a public screaming match. Witnesses were stunned to see them arguing just days before their 22nd wedding anniversary . . . Kindly provide a comment” by Wednesday morning.
Parker strongly denied the would-be story in her post: “There was no ‘screaming match’ as alleged in a restaurant or on the street, nor was there a confrontation as alleged,” she wrote, tagging her reply with the hashtag “#celebrityharassment.”
The Enquirer has a long history of collecting embarrassing information on celebrities and using it to manipulate them to advance its interests. But this didn’t appear to be a shakedown. The tabloid’s goal seems to have been to verify its reporting, exactly what mainstream reporters do.
It’s true that the Enquirer has been involved in a number of unsavory incidents. It admitted to federal prosecutors last year that it paid off Playboy model Karen McDougal to suppress her story of an affair with President Trump before the 2016 election to help Trump’s campaign. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, said Trump approved the payments.
In February, Amazon chief executive and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos said the Enquirer had tried to blackmail him by threatening to publish intimate photos unless he made a public statement favorable to the publication (Bezos declined to do so). The tabloid’s lawyer denied any attempt to strong-arm Bezos.
Fitness guru Richard Simmons and TV self-help host Phil McGraw have claimed that the Enquirer threatened to publish damaging information about them to pressure them to drop lawsuits against the tabloid. The Enquirer denied the accusation in both cases.
But there’s a broad line between reporting news (including gossipy material about an alleged marital spat) and outright blackmail.
By seeking Parker’s side the story, the Enquirer appears to have been doing its journalistic due diligence. Its query for comment is something journalists feel obligated to do when reporting a story. Doing so is ultimately an act of fairness; it gives the subject of a story a chance to deny it, to explain his or her side, or to point out mitigating facts.
The request-comment rule is among the first listed by the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics: “Verify information before releasing it,” it says. “Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.”
Such inquiries sometimes lead journalists, including those from the Enquirer, to scrap a story that seems problematic or defective. The tabloid, for example, in 2017 sought comment from former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about a bizarre story it was pursuing.
Under the same “To Whom It May Concern” salutation, the Enquirer asked Schwarzenegger’s representatives for comment about a planned story involving “reports that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been plotting against Donald Trump with a band of rogue generals, spies and Republican double agents to rewrite the United States Constitution to allow foreign-born Americans [such as Schwarzenegger] to run for the Presidency.”
Schwarzenegger’s attorney denied the assertion. The Enquirer hasn’t published the story.
Parker’s representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Enquirer declined to comment.
Veteran Hollywood crisis manager Howard Bragman said Parker’s Instagram post was probably the product of frustration. “Like most longtime, smart celebrities, she has a thick skin and has endured a lot from the tabloid press,” he said. “But it just gets to a point when, just as you’re approaching a happy time in your life . . . she’s saying, ‘Hey, no, this is not okay.’ ”
The classic response, he said, would be to “shut up and let it go away. Her posting “does have the disadvantage of making it a bigger story. But it also has the advantage of making her feel better. . . . I think, generally, ignoring it is the best response. Or maybe making love in Central Park to prove it’s wrong.”
Sarah Ellison contributed to this story.