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 Play Off Celebrity ReputationPhoto: Us Weekly
Tabloids will often pair scandalous stories with celebrities who are already scandalous. Apparently, one’s previous public image can be called into consideration in a libel suit. So if you’re known for being a huge adulterer, and a magazine prints that you adulter-ed when you in fact did not, tough luck. It’s not only harder to prove that the tabloid knew the story was false, but it’s harder to claim they are ruining your image when that ship already sailed.
In 2006, a judge dismissed Britney Spears's libel case against Us Weekly for publishing that she and K-Fed made a sex tape. The judge ruled that since Spears had “put her modern sexuality squarely and profitably, before the public eye,” the article was not defamatory. Which just sounds like a fancy legal form of slut shaming.
The Streisand Effect
We’ve all had that experience where we’re talking about something super mundane at a dinner table, and someone who wasn’t paying attention asks, “Wait, what?” At this point you’ve finished the story and realized it wasn’t that great to begin with, so you just respond, “Nothing.” Immediately, whatever the hell you just said becomes the most fascinating and interesting secret, now that they can’t hear it.
This is basically the Streisand Effect in everyday life. And in tabloid stories, it means that the more one tries to cover up or kill a story, the more attention people give to it. In 2003, Barbra Streisand tried to suppress photos of her Malibu home. Said photos gained more popularity and viewership simply by Streisand’s attempt to hide them (and she hasn't been the only celebrity to experience this). So as a celebrity considering suing a tabloid, you have to decide which is more harmful… Star Magazine reporting you made a sex tape, or you going to great lengths to vehemently deny/cover up alleged sex tape. The lady doth protest too much.
They Beat Around the BushPhoto: In Touch
"Lindsay Lohan: Seen out at night club. Friends are concerned. Is she in trouble?" This is just an example of how a tabloid might take innocuous crap and turn it into a scandal. By making vague and questioning statements, they avoid definitive claims claims that can later be labeled as libel. If you’ve ever read the actual cover story of any tabloid magazine, you’re familiar with the story that’s not actually a story at all. While the cover might pose a question such as “Have They Split?” the actual article often gives no clear answer to the question.
In 2011, Katie Holmes sued Star over a cover story that read, "Katie Drug Shocker!" Despite the headline, in the article Star never once definitively states that Holmes is addicted to drugs. Rather, they use information about her excessive "auditing" in Scientology and use language such as, "trapped in in a cycle of addictive treatments" to liken her to a drug addict. Yet ultimately, the claim made in the headline is never made in the article. The two parties settled out of court, and Star issued a very careful apology stating, "We published headlines about Katie Holmes that could be read to suggest that she was addicted to drugs."
They Use Sketchy SourcesPhoto: Weekly World News
Libel is not just the printing of false information. To prove libel, one also must prove that whoever printed the information knew it was false at the time. A great way for tabloids to feign ignorance is by using sources. A lot of “sources” in celebrity magazines are - well, shady at best. They are often people who have some tangential connection to the celebrity, like a former hair stylist or a childhood friend, who are looking to make a quick buck or be a part of a story. They’re also essentially a from of insurance/scapegoat for the publication. If it turns out the information was false, the tabloid can simply say they trusted the source and believed it to be true.
For instance, when David Beckham sued Us Weekly for a story claiming he cheated on his wife with a prostitute, the judge ruled against him, in part due to the “source” who claimed she’d slept with Beckham. Despite numerous holes in her story, the magazine wasn’t held responsible simply because their writing was based on the claims of this source, however unreliable.