If you've ever been to any grocery store ever, you've seen the ridiculous bullsh*t that is tabloid headlines. These publications employ a variety of tactics and tricks that allow them to write completely fabricated stories while not getting sued. The subjects of these articles, generally celebrities, have to jump through tremendous hurdles to win a libel case. While some undergo the effort, most don't even bother to fight the uphill battle. After all, why waste your time denying you have a drug problem when the following week you'll be pregnant with Ben Affleck's baby?
They Frame Facts as "Opinions"
Printing a "fact" that is not true - and that a tabloid knows not to be true - is libelous. An opinion, however, is an entirely different ball game. For instance, if the writer or source of a story thinks that Mary-Kate Olsen is too skinny, this isn’t something that can be proven false. Therefore, instead of saying, “Mary-Kate Olsen has an eating disorder,” a tabloid might use opinions to get the same point across.
Of course, when reading about a celebrity scandal, most readers aren’t going to give the same weight to opinions as facts. So tabloids do an excellent job of walking a line between the two, and crafting opinions to sound like the essential facts and details of the story rather than the complete crap they actually are.
In 2006 Reese Witherspoon sued Star Magazine over a false cover story that she was pregnant with her third child. Part of the magazine's defense was that they had only stated Witherspoon "appeared" to be pregnant from her baggy clothing and empire waist-lines. This might have worked out had the magazine not also stated (more definitively) that she was hiding her condition from producers of the movie she was filming. Witherspoon won and Star printed a very classy retraction reading, "Since she is not pregnant maybe it's just a sign that it's time to hit the gym!"
They Write Impossibly Ridiculous Stories
Did Marilyn Monroe die from a vampire bite? Is Dick Cheney secretly a robot? Probably not, but if we can’t definitively disprove it, it’s not libel. Conspiracy theories are fun because they’re outrageous, but also for the tiniest possibility that they could be true. In a similar fashion, off-the-rails tabloids like the National Enquirer publish insane stories such as these because, hey, you can’t prove in a court of law that Brad Pitt definitely isn’t possessed by a demonic ghost named Clyde. (Okay, that one wasn't an actual headline, but you get the gist).
They Have Scary-Ass Legal Teams
So you’re a celebrity, and In Touch just reported you got a boob job. You were just wearing a push-up bra though, can you live?! While you might think it's time to sue, unless you have the money and patience for a long, drawn-out battle in court, you may want to reconsider.
One of the biggest deterrents celebrities face in suing tabloid publications is the team of legal experts operating behind each one. Not only do most tabloid publications keep an extensive legal team and a butt-load of money on hand for this very reason, but they also have several lawyers read over their pieces to look for anything that might be problematic from a legal front. In the words of Vincent Cheffio, who has represented many celebrities in such cases, “You don’t attack the scorpion because you’re going to get stung.”
In Touch is the scorpion, and you're the idiot trying to pick it up.
They Write Through Their Sources
Just as a lawyer questioning a witness on the stand might frame a question to get the answer they desire, tabloids can ask leading questions of their sources to get the material they’re seeking. For instance, a source who said they spotted Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal chilling at Jamba Juice might be asked, “Did you spot Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal romantically canoodling and holding hands at a private table in the corner of Jamba Juice as if they were a couple?”
If the source answers affirmatively, the tabloid can attribute their version of events to the source. Their question, essentially, becomes the answer.
Tabloids are also quite successful at placing these "quotes" in the right context. The way they frame a source's quote can change the entire story. For instance, In Touch published an article on "Sharon Stone's Plastic Surgery Mystery," in which they questioned whether a particular surgeon had performed face lifts on the star. The quote from Dr. Calabria reads, "I cannot comment on that. There is a strict law that says I cannot comment. It is a privacy issue." The quote ultimately says nothing and could be from any part of a conversation, yet here it implies that he did operate on Stone and allows the magazine to get off scot-free. Stone attempted to sue Calabria for defamation, but the suit was dismissed.