[FPSPACE] Meanwhile, in outer space...
Thu, 29 Jan 2004 12:50:18 -0500 (GMT-05:00)
Aliens Beam Editor To Tabloid Heaven
By Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2004; Page C01
Eddie Clontz is dead.
The longtime editor of Weekly World News is currently in Heaven, which is in Outer Space. We know this because Clontz's supermarket tabloid once revealed exclusively that Heaven had been photographed by a Russian space probe. It even ran pictures.
Details of Clontz's death this week at age 56 were murky at press time, but I believe he was eaten by a cannibal space alien. Absent conflicting information, I'm going with that.
I think every American journalist, with the possible exception of Bob Woodward, secretly envied Eddie Clontz. I know I did. Here was a man who simply refused, as a matter of principle, to allow truth to get in the way of a great story.
Under Clontz's direction, the Florida-based Weekly World News, which claims a circulation of 440,000, became the most joyfully, breathlessly irresponsible newspaper on the face of the Earth. By comparison, the National Enquirer is the Wilson Quarterly.
On the pages of Weekly World News, space aliens regularly make political endorsements. The newspaper is forever discovering a new World's Fattest Person, the most recent crushing the scales at more than 3,000 pounds. Moms give birth to 20 children at once. Cats have litters of 150. A World War II bomber is found on the moon. Giant fleas the size of Labrador retrievers terrorize the Midwest.
Even the modest, below-the-fold stories in Weekly World News deliver something special. The newspaper once reported that a strange object orbiting the Earth had been positively identified as a clot of all those helium balloons kids had let go of over the years.
Journalists and their confidential sources have a special relationship, as inviolate as doctor and patient or priest and penitent. Woodward, for example, says he will wait for Deep Throat to die before disclosing his identity. Well, Eddie's death liberates me to reveal the time Dave Barry and I leaked a big story to Weekly World News.
It was 1993. Dave came up with the perfect tabloid concept -- the tabloid story to end tabloid stories: ELVIS DIES AT 58. We were so excited about this that I telephoned Eddie, to suggest that he write it.
Eddie patiently listened to my pitch, and was silent for a moment.
"You mean, he just died?"
"Right," I said, "like, yesterday. Of, um, a heart attack."
I could hear those oily wheels turning. Eddie knew this would end a tabloid cottage industry of Elvis-still-lives articles. My God, it would basically cripple the franchise.
But, man, what a story!
"Are you sure?" he said, at last.
"Absolutely!" I said.
"Well, we'll have to check into it," he said, not a hint of humor in his voice.
I'm sure he put his best people on it. Weeks went by. But sure enough, the story finally hit the stands: ELVIS DEAD AT 58. It was a huge scoop. WWN donated six pages to it, with many sidebars.
Of course, some weeks later WWN exclusively disclosed that prior reports of Elvis's death had been a hoax. And it was back in the Elvis business.
Eddie retired three years ago, but his legacy is solid. Recent issues of Weekly World News reported that Dentists Refusing to Fix Vampires' Teeth, Evil Mole People Found In Wyoming, and Satan Escapes From Hell. The Weekly World News currently on newsstands reports that survivors of the Titanic have been found alive, frozen in ice, and that tiny terrorists are disguising themselves as garden gnomes.
See, Eddie is dead, but Eddie still lives.