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Aliens, Elvis, Bat Boy Mourn Weekly World News

From their journalistic rivals at the Miami Herald:

Aliens, Elvis, Bat Boy mourn death of Weekly World News

Posted on Sun, Aug. 26, 2007

BY LARRY LEBOWITZ

The Weekly World News is dead, and in the words of its ripsnorting right-wing columnist Ed Anger, the tabloid’s dwindling legion of fans should be ”pig-biting mad” about it.

Based for most of its 28 years in Palm Beach County, the Weekly World News delivered the guiltiest of pleasures with wheelbarrows of wit, screaming headlines and a black-and-white design sensibility straight out of 1952.

Depending on your perspective, the WWN gloriously chronicled or shamelessly fabricated an alternate reality populated by amorous space aliens, babies born with angel wings and gardeners who marry their vegetables.

It was a cracked universe where Elvis still lives, Bigfoot could steal your wife, the face of Satan appears in clouds over New York City and the U.S. military deploys Bat Boy, with his superior cave-manuevering skills, to “take a bite out of Bin Laden.”

It was a twisted funhouse where a blind man miraculously regains his vision — and dumps his ugly wife, and a world-weary genius, tired of knowing and seeing it all, begs his doctors to “CUT OUT MY BRAIN AND MAKE ME A NITWIT!” …

The Weekly World News was born in 1979 when the late Generoso Pope’s flagship tabloid, The National Enquirer, was forced to abandon its black-and-white format to stay ahead of rival Rupert Murdoch’s hard-charging, color competitor, Star.

Pope created the WWN to squeeze a little more profit out of those black-and-white presses in Pompano Beach. It initially foundered as a third-rate gossip sheet, but hit its stride in 1981 when Eddie Clontz, a 10th-grade dropout and veteran Florida newsman, took the helm…

Clontz assembled a small cadre of veteran reporters and editors, many of them Southerners and British ex-pats. Calling staff meetings with a Supersoaker water gun, Clontz fostered a freewheeling, collaborative environment…

Unlike staid newspapers of record that deal with concepts like ”facts” and ”truth,” anyone could send a story over the transom.

Clontz, who died in 2004, legendarily instructed his reporters to stay out of the way, let the sources tell the story: ”You’ve got to know when to stop asking questions.” If a guy called in and said Bigfoot stole his wife, then Bigfoot stole his wife. Why fact-check your way out of that one?

”We knew our core constituency wasn’t just college kids who are laughing at everything, but many people took the stories straight up and enjoyed them for what they were,” said former WWN managing editor Sal Ivone, proud author of the tortured-genius-demands-lobotomy classic. “They didn’t want to question it. So that was the way we played it.”

For a while, readers lapped it up. Circulation peaked at 1.2 million in 1988 with a front-page edition declaring ”ELVIS IS ALIVE — and living in Kalamazoo.” The tip was phoned in by a Michigan housewife.

A story would often start with a shred of truth and then a WWN writer would ”polish” it, sometimes to brilliantly ridiculous extremes. That’s why the WWN was the only media outlet to score exclusive Hubble telescope photos of Heaven…

The WWN cornered the market on mind-boggling science stories attributed to hard-to-track-down ”researchers” in out-of-the-way Bulgarian ‘burgs…

Bat Boy was one of those happy accidents that could only occur at the Weekly World News. Dick Kulpa, the WWN’s graphics genius, was Photoshopping a human child’s image into another alien baby.

Tired of the same-old, same-old, Kulpa gave the tyke pointy ears, fangs and huge eyes. Ivone, who was standing nearby, muttered: ”Bat Boy!” The rest is blissful tabloid history.

Clontz’s talented younger brother, Derek, quickly crafted the original tale of the wide-eyed mutant, cornered in a West Virginia cave, eating his weight in insects.

Over time, the criminally inclined half-man/half-bat escaped and was recaptured umpteen times, leading feckless cops on high-speed chases across Appalachia. After 9/11, Bat Boy evolved from evil, car-stealing miscreant to patriotic enlistee, sent into the caves of Afghanistan to hunt down Osama.

That kooky strain of jingoism was a WWN trademark.

Despite this community’s five-decade obsession with all things Fidel, the WWN scooped the entire Miami media on this bombshell: “CUBA LAUNCHES SHARK ATTACK ON U.S. — CASTRO’S EVIL PLAN TO TERRORIZE OUR BEACHES.”

Years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, ”My America” columnist Ed Anger would get ”pig-biting mad” about ”Sicko Russkies” who were executing thousands of puppies to line their winter hats with fur.

Ghostwritten by a string of writers including Rafe Klinger and Eddie Clontz, Ed Anger was fighting the culture wars decades before Fox News made Bill O’Reilly a household name.

Anger was the master of the vivid opening simile: ‘I’m madder than Adam with a one-inch fig leaf at how these left-wing heathens, atheists and agnostics are trying to stuff this evolution baloney down our kids’ throats!”

It was quintessential WWN. A certain part of the audience unblinkingly agreed with Anger’s rants against flag-burners, pantywaist liberals, pinkos, women’s libbers and latté-swilling purveyors of the politically correct…

Without the WWN, a dozen sitting U.S. senators — including astronaut hero John Glenn — wouldn’t have admitted that they were aliens from outer space. Bat Boy would never have become a Broadway musical. Agents Scully and Mulder channeled plenty of WWN mojo on The X Files and Tommy Lee Jones’ Men In Black alien hunter proclaimed it “the best damn investigative reporting on the planet.”

But it couldn’t shine forever. New owners who didn’t understand its special niche sent Clontz packing in 2001. The newsmen were replaced by freelance comedy writers. Tastes changed. The Internet thrived. Circulation plummeted…

The owners finally pulled the plug last month. The last issue hits newsstands this week…

This article touches on the tragic decline of the Weekly World News, which had been written by real newspaper men from both the US and the UK. Many of the writers also worked or had worked for the National Enquirer, the Star and the other newspapers based down in Lantana, Florida. Many also worked or had worked for the tabloids in Britain.

These journalists, sometimes aided by copious servings of alcohol, sent up the reportage of our watchdog media. Ed Anger was only their least subtle attack on political correctness.

But, as this author notes, the joke writers who were brought in to replace them in 2001 just didn’t understand the approach, and they turned the WWN into a one joke bore.

Sadly, the new owners didn’t realize what they had. 

This article was posted by Steve on Sunday, August 26th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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