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How The National Enquirer Vets Gay Sex Stories

Obviously intrigued by the glut of John Travolta gay-masseuse-sex stories coming out  in the tabloids as of late, Gawker’s Maureen O’Connor decided to look into the National Enquirer‘s fact-checking processes. Though she spoke to a few staffers at the Enquirer and its sister tabloid Star who admitted many of their stories were utterly wrong, she seems to have come away impressed with the rigor involved in going after big scoops like the Travolta stories. Sources touting scandalous revelations are routinely given polygraph tests by a former FBI interrogator. No joke.

Writes O’Connor:

“The polygraph is an insurance policy that our lawyers like,” Star editor James Heidenry explained to me. Star‘s third editor-in-chief in little over a year, Heidenry was not on staff during Mr. Clean’s negotiation, but spoke broadly about the magazine’s tactics. “We like to get them too, to be confident with the story and reach a comfort level with it, and to protect ourselves against legal action.” If a story failed the polygraph test, “we would ditch it,” he concluded.

The AMI employees I spoke to vacillated on the value of polygraphs. One Star employee characterized the notoriously unreliable lie-detection method as “theater,” “a prop that, in terms of journalism, means nothing.” He echoed Heidenry’s emphasis on legal protect: Polygraphs help reporters prove they demonstrated due diligence.

OK, so the lie detector thing is a little gimmicky. Still, a few more traditional journalistic practices are squeezed in there to from time to time. The rest of the piece is worth the read.

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