Gossip Magazines & Ethical Missteps


The obsession with knowing everything about the lives of celebrities has manifested in many areas.  From the boom of reality television shows, to the access of social media sites, to the nonstop production of gossip magazines and websites, the demand for this type of information is clear.  This obsession brings up two main issues.  The first being celebrities’ rights to privacy and the second being the purposeful slandering of celebrities in an effort to sell magazines, regardless of the truthfulness of the stories.

Take the National Enquirer as an example.  Just reading the headlines on the cover makes the average person question the truthfulness of the statements.  Yet this does not seem to discourage fans hungry for gossip about their favorite celebrities from purchasing the magazine.  With the amount of magazines producing untrue articles, it seems many celebrities have given up trying to protect their reputation and just accepted this type of defamation as part of their job.  Yet sometimes it goes to far, causing the victims of false stories to file libel suits. Tom Cruise is currently threatening to sue the magazine for publishing “false and vicious lies” about the actor’s divorce from Katie Holmes, and in 2005 Cameron Diez won a suit against the magazine.

But these are far from the only cases.  Natalie Holloway’s mother recently sued  the National Enquirer claiming the tabloid “published knowingly false stories about her daughter’s 2005 disappearance in Aruba in order to profit from the tragedy.” According to her, the false stories persisted for more than 7 years, and this was the only way to even attempt to stop the inaccurate reporting.  Gossip magazines across the world are demonstrating a trend that says that passing off hearsay as fact and not using reliable sources can be an acceptable standard.  This brings up questions about the future of “journalism” and the ethical implications of not fact-checking or verifying information received.  After all, wouldn’t the magazine expect to get false accounts considering they pay their sources for tips?

It is sad to see that these magazines are still not discouraged from reporting false information and slandering celebrities, despite the number of lawsuits filed.  I can’t help but question our role in creating a lack of ethical standards amongst gossip magazines.  If we weren’t so desperate to uncover every detail about celebrities’ lives, perhaps accurate journalism would be more widespread.

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6 thoughts on “Gossip Magazines & Ethical Missteps

  1. I agree that it is ridiculous what some of these magazines and other forms of media do to get people’s attention. I don’t understand why Americans are so fascinated with other people’s lives or why they watch TV shows about other people living their day-to-day boring lives (Housewives shows, etc). Also, I think you could tie your point about de-valuing the word “journalism” with Mike Daisey’s monologue. Fact checking and true statements were clearly not valued in both cases.

  2. I really like that you chose to write about gossip magazines. I’ll admit that reading Perez HIlton’s blog between classes and before bed is one of my guilty pleasures, but I’d like to believe that he’s a little more mindful of celebrities’ boundaries. Your topic is especially interesting in light of this Kate Middleton topless sunbathing photo scandal. In this case, magazines are not technically lying, but they are capitalizing on a highly unethical photo in order to sell magazines. I wonder if it is even possible to be an ethical magazine writer at a tabloid magazine?

  3. I love this blog topic, because like many people, I’m addicted to magazines. I definitely agree that the Kate Middleton being topless photo isn’t exactly ethical for a magazine to publish. They aren’t lying, but they are breaking her right to privacy and intruding on her life in a way that makes the situation unethical. The awful thing about gossip magazines is that no matter how unethical they may be, we continue to purchase and read them every month that they hit the magazine stands.

  4. I think certain magazines, like the National Enquirer or US Weekly, take celebrity gossip a little (or a lot) too far. Other ones, like People, seem to be a bit more professional, but not by much. We recently discussed Facebook in my marketing management class and got on the topic of how much we love to see and know what’s going on in other people’s lives, even if we don’t actually know them. Gossip magazines are like an older, more celeb-focused version of the kind of creeping we do on Facebook.

  5. Allison, I think you bring up a great point about the difference in professionalism between gossip magazines. It is pretty well known which gossip magazines are completely made up and which ones may actually report the truth. I admit that I always grab People over the cheap tabloids, even though it is about $3 more expensive, just because I believe that it is a higher quality magazine. Still, when I flip through it, I always find myself wondering how the photographers got the pictures and information without breaking privacy boundaries. The simple answer is that they do break privacy boundaries. Even though they are celebrities, they are still people. Many of us wouldn’t like photographers surrounding us at all times, so why do we justify it for celebrities?

  6. Pingback: First Annual BGS Blog Olympics | Business, Society, and Government 4

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