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12 Nostalgic Tabloid Figures Who Didn't Deserve The Hate They Got

List Rules
Vote up the tabloid figures who were subjected to needlessly harsh headlines.

While tabloids still exist, social media has replaced the rags of yesteryear as a means to get the latest pictures, news, updates, and gossip. What used to be picked up in a grocery store checkout aisle is now often read while scrolling through a phone screen in the comfort of one's home. And while many may nostalgically mourn the loss of the kind of tabloid stories you'd see in the '80s or '90s, it might not all be bad news.

Looking back on nostalgic tabloids and pop culture, both the media and public weren't always (or often) kind to the subjects that fascinated them. In many cases, it took decades to realize we handled it all wrong, and that famous or not, these figures were still human beings.

So, from true crime figures in the 1980s to teen idols in the early 2000s, let's give a redemptive narrative to these tabloid figures who everyone loved to hate. Whether they were in the wrong or not, some of the treatment towards them was unnecessarily callous and cruel, and it's time to finally change the headlines.

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  • Richard Jewell Was First A Hero Before The Press Decided He Was The Villain
    Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / Fair Use
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    5,042 VOTES

    Richard Jewell Was First A Hero Before The Press Decided He Was The Villain

    While working as a security guard at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA, Richard Jewell discovered a suspicious backpack under a bench. He alerted officials, who found three pipe bombs inside. Jewell helped clear the vicinity, saving crowds of people from the incendiary devices before they detonated. He was hailed as a hero - until he wasn't. 

    The FBI began investigating Jewell as the potential culprit, and an inside source leaked this information to the press. The media was quick to make damaging assessments about his guilt and vicious comments about his weight. The New York Post called him the "Village Rambo" and "a fat, failed, former sheriff's deputy." Jay Leno asked, "What is it about the Olympic Games that brings out big, fat, stupid guys?"

    Jewell was even compared to the suspected serial killer of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1981, Wayne Williams, with an Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist writing, "Like this one, that suspect was drawn to the blue lights and sirens of police work. Like this one, he became famous in the aftermath of murder." Meanwhile, the FBI hadn't even named Jewell a suspect.

    Jewell, who lived with his mother, remembered the constant hounding from both the press and public at the time. When someone got a hold of his mother's home phone number, they received about 1,000 calls a day. Anytime Jewell's mother left the house, he said, "They would holler obscenities at her. They would yell, 'Did he do it? Did he blow those people up?' They would yell, 'You should both die.'"

    Three months after the incident, Jewell was cleared by investigators. The real culprit was eventually caught in 2003. Until Jewell's passing in 2007 from heart disease, every year on the bombing's anniversary, he secretly placed a rose and card on the spot where spectator Alice Hawthorne lost her life.

    5,042 votes
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    4,418 VOTES

    No One Believed Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton When She Said A Dingo Snatched Her Baby

    In 1980, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton took her 9-week-old baby, Azaria, on a family camping trip to Uluru, Australia. She was enjoying a barbecue with other campers that August night when she heard a cry and went to check on her daughter. The baby was gone, with only blood remaining in the tent and paw prints leaving the entrance. Chamberlain-Creighton's subsequent shouts of "the dingo's got my baby!" (further popularized by a film starring Meryl Streep) would make her one of the most ridiculed and reviled figures in Australian history.

    During the investigation and subsequent homicide trial, public and press alike weighed in on Chamberlain-Creighton's case. Her behavior was under intense scrutiny, attracting criticism for everything from her openness with reporters to what she wore - her sleeveless dresses and her "sultry good looks," as one reporter described it, apparently related to her guilt. 

    The fact that Chamberlain-Creighton and her husband at the time were Seventh-day Adventists also raised suspicion, and stirred lurid rumors of cult slayings and sacrifices. Some claimed the name "Azaria" was Hebrew for "sacrifice in the wilderness," but it actually means "God helped."

    Despite no body, no motive, and witness testimony of dingoes in the area, Chamberlain-Creighton was convicted of slaying her daughter. The dingo story just sounded unbelievable, or as prosecutors put it, like "a calculated, fanciful lie." When Chamberlain-Creighton was convicted, people around the country applauded. She spent three years in prison for Azaria's slaying and received frequent hate mail

    New evidence emerged in the case in 1986, after a hiker accidentally fell off rocks in the area and perished. His body was found near a dingo den, along with an article of Azaria's clothing that Chamberlain-Creighton had always insisted was missing. Much of the "forensic" evidence used to convict Chamberlain-Creighton was also determined to be erroneous. Still, it wasn't until 2012 when an Australian medical examiner finally ruled a dingo as the culprit.

    4,418 votes
  • Stella Liebeck Was Ridiculed As The Face Of Frivolous Lawsuits When She Hadn’t Even Wanted To Sue McDonald's
    Photo: Hot Coffee / HBO
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    4,021 VOTES

    Stella Liebeck Was Ridiculed As The Face Of Frivolous Lawsuits When She Hadn’t Even Wanted To Sue McDonald's

    In 1994, Stella Liebeck accidentally spilled her cup of hot McDonald's coffee on herself and decided to take the company to court. The case came to exemplify frivolous lawsuits in the US, where anyone would sue for anything if they thought they could make a quick buck.

    However, McDonald's coffee at the time was kept at an undrinkably hot level - between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit (about 82 to 88 degrees Celsius). Food carries a burn hazard if it's more than 140 F (60 C). According to a McDonald's quality assurance manager, the company kept its coffee at a level that would burn your throat if you were to drink it.

    For Liebeck, who was 79 at the time, spilling her coffee resulted in third-degree burns on her legs and groin area that required hospitalization, extensive surgery, and skin grafts. Prior to the Liebeck case, the company had received 700 complaints from people who'd burned themselves with the coffee.

    While Liebeck became a symbol of litigious American culture, she initially didn't want to sue McDonald's; she merely requested the company pay for her $20,000 medical bills. The company refused, which caused Liebeck to sue.

    She ultimately settled for a combination of compensatory and punitive damages worth around $640,000. The jury that originally heard her case thought the payout should be $2.9 million. The amount was appealed by both parties, who later settled for a confidential sum. A judge presiding over the case described the corporation's actions as "reckless, callous, and willful."

    4,021 votes
  • Michael Schiavo Was Called An Adulterer And Blamed For His Wife Terri Schiavo’s Collapse Into A Coma
    Photo: NBC News / YouTube
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    3,003 VOTES

    Michael Schiavo Was Called An Adulterer And Blamed For His Wife Terri Schiavo’s Collapse Into A Coma

    After she went into cardiac arrest and collapsed in 1990, Terri Schiavo became the center of a legal battle that would last up until 2005, as her husband, Michael Schiavo, fought to remove her feeding tube, and her family (the Schindlers) fought to keep her alive by any means necessary. Both sides argued they were following what Terri's wishes would have been, but the fight turned bitter, with each leveling grave accusations against the other.

    But that wasn't always the case. Schiavo and the Schindlers remained close for years after Terri's collapse. While Schiavo would later receive backlash and death threats for his decision to date another woman, it was three years after Terri's collapse before he decided to date again. According to Terri's former guardian, Jay Wolfson:

    It took Michael a long time to consider the prospect of getting on with his life... something he was actively encouraged to do by the Schindlers, long before enmity tore them apart.

    The enmity seemed to stem from a $1 million malpractice suit Schiavo was awarded. Both parties accused the other of being after the money, $300,000 of which Schiavo kept and $750,000 of which he put in a trust for his wife's care. The Schindlers began to accuse Schiavo of wanting to eliminate Terri to marry his girlfriend and keep the money. While a feud began, it wasn't until 1998 when Schiavo petitioned (for the first time) to remove his wife's feeding tube, citing a promise he made to his wife to let her pass with dignity.

    The public and various media outlets soon took sides as well. Schiavo was called an adulterer, while his girlfriend was called a whore. He was also accused of homicide, but not only for his decision to remove his wife's feeding tube. Many of the Schindler family's supporters claimed Schiavo was an abusive husband and had caused Terri's collapse, despite no forensic evidence to back up the claim. A state court rejected further investigation into the claim of mistreatment, as previous allegations had been found to be groundless.

    As to why he didn't divorce Terri, Schiavo responded in an interview, "Terri wasn’t like a football... an inanimate object you pass back and forth. She was my wife. You mean because your wife gets sick, do you give her back?" He also said he continued to endure the harassment and the drawn-out legal fight for Terri's sake: "I was doing something that Terri wanted. And I couldn’t give it up on her. I came this far. And I wasn’t gonna let anybody stand in my way."

    An independent report to former Governor Jeb Bush and the judicial system stated “the evidence is incontrovertible that [Schiavo] gave his heart and soul to her treatment and care.”

    3,003 votes
  • In September 1983, Vanessa Williams became the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America. But by September of the following year, Williams had abdicated her throne and Penthouse magazine had published unauthorized nude photos of her in its September '84 issue, with the headline: “Miss America: Oh, God, She’s Nude!”

    Before she became Miss America, Williams was a photographer's assistant, and during that time, she posed for some pictures she was told she'd be "unidentifiable" in. When pageant organizers learned of the upcoming publication of the photos, they publicly asked for Williams's resignation. In her public statement, she said, "I wish I could retain my title," but cited the "potential harm to the pageant and the deep, deep division that a bitter fight may cause" as reasons why she couldn't keep her position.

    Williams also stated in the press conference it was "the worst thing that ever happened" to her, and said she felt violated, both by Penthouse for its publication of the images and by the pageant for going to the press with its desire for her resignation.

    Penthouse called the decision to publish her photos a "business decision" rather than "a moral decision." While Williams did file a lawsuit against the magazine, she eventually dropped it, telling People:

    I just wanted to get on with my life... So many people have gotten burned by those people that I think they’ll eventually get it in the end and die a slow, painful death.

    As for Miss America, the pageant apologized to Williams in 2015, 32 years after she was forced to give up the crown. CEO Sam Haskell told Williams:

    I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be.

    The audience gave Williams a standing ovation, who called the apology "unexpected" and "beautiful."

  • Janet Jackson's Career Fell Into A Rut After The 2004 Super Bowl 'Wardrobe Malfunction'
    Photo: CBS / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    The 2004 Super Bowl was memorable not for the football game, but for the halftime performance (oft called "Nipplegate") that was so rewatched it inspired YouTube. After being bumped for the past two years, Janet Jackson headlined with a number of guest stars, including a surprise appearance from Justin Timberlake, performing "Rock Your Body." At the end of the number, Timberlake ripped off part of Jackson's costume to reveal her right breast on live television.

    Though it only lasted a moment, the outrage was swift, as was the debate. Was the incident planned? If not, whose fault was it? Jackson and Timberlake both eventually released apologies and seemed to align on the story that while some removal of the costume had been planned at the last minute, Timberlake was only meant to reveal a red bralette underneath. Removing the whole thing had been a "wardrobe malfunction."

    After receiving an unprecedented number of complaints about the incident, FCC Chairman Michael Powell issued a statement:

    I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation's children, parents, and citizens deserve better.

    While Jackson had been scheduled to appear at the Grammys the following week, then was asked not to, Timberlake did appear and won two awards, while issuing another apology for the incident. Jackson's album, Damita Jo, which came out that March, was her lowest-selling since 1984, despite favorable reviews from critics. This was reportedly caused in part by CBS CEO Les Moonves, who refused to let Viacom television or radio stations play songs from her album.

    Jackson was also repeatedly pressed about the events in interviews for years to follow, like on Letterman, where she eventually responded, "There are more important things to focus on in this world than my breast."

    As times changed, many involved have acknowledged the heavy blame placed specifically on Jackson, including Timberlake, who headlined the Super Bowl halftime in 2018 and performed the same song sans Jackson. Even Powell later walked back his previous statement, saying:

    I personally thought that was really unfair... It all turned into being about her. In reality, if you slow the thing down, it's Justin ripping off her breastplate... I think we've been removed from this long enough for me to tell you that I had to put my best version of outrage on that I could put on...