Contrary to what you may have read, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are still together. John Mayer and Jennifer Anniston are not. Neither are Kate Hudson and Owen Wilson. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, however, are still together, though they haven’t gotten married or conceived a child.
Break-ups, pregnancies, marriages—these are some of the major markers of life, and the bread and butter for any celebrity weekly. These publications live and die based on the moments of celebrity’s lives. So much so that they often grasp at the faintest of rumors to try and generate a story, or just make something up. A fair question, then, is which outlets get it right when it comes to the latest in celebrity copulation, separation, rehabilitation, conception, and deception?
Gawker attempted to provide an answer this week whenit published a report by Maureen O’Connor that used a rather unique and amusing methodology to try and see which weekly is the most accurate, or, as the site itself put it, “Which Tabloids Lie the Most?”
“Very few people actually look back and recall what ran in these mags months ago or weeks ago and we thought it would be interesting to do a little analysis …” said Remy Stern, the editor-in-chief of Gawker. “We thought it would be fun and really didn’t know what we would find.”
You can read the full methodology here, but basically the Gawker team chose five weeklies—In Touch, OK!, Life & Style, Star, and Us Weekly—and “analyzed 20 months of reported break-ups, marriages, and pregnancies to tabulate our first-ever Tabloid Reality Index, batting averages for America’s five major celebrity glossies and the rumors they monger.”
Gawker checked back on individual reports to see if they were ever verified—did Jennifer Anniston really get pregnant by Kristen Stewart, who was adopted by Brangelina?—and then tallied up the results. Turns out Us Weekly is the best of the tabs and Star came in last place. (Disclosure: About seven or eight years ago, I did a one-time stint as a stringer for In Touch. It consisted of me driving to Ottawa and spending the day following around a former Bachelor contestant to see what he did, and to ask him to confirm reports that he and his chosen bride-to-be had broken up.)
People wasn’t in contention because “they very rarely got anything wrong and practiced a different sort of tabloid journalism.” At the same time, the National Enquirer was also excluded because it too practiced a different sort of tabloid journalism, albeit from the other extreme. (Read this previous column to see how they would disagree.) Gawker also published an accompanying story that is a remarkable collage of all the incorrect Brangelina covers.
Stern said the story has done relatively well for traffic, and has really struck a chord with people in the media. When we spoke, he said O’Connor was waiting to hear if she was going to appear on The View to discuss the findings.
The piece was also noted by long time celebrity reporter Michael Lewittes. He’s spent time on the gossip beat for the New York Daily News, New York Post, Us Weekly, E!, and Access Hollywood. He now runs Gossip Cop, which exists solely to judge the accuracy and quality of celebrity reporting.
“We have a simple policy here: We fact check,” he said. “No one had ever done it before [in gossip reporting], which was exciting and shocking at the same time.”
The site ranks the accuracy of the latest reports from the major weeklies and other outlets using a zero-to-ten scale, and by contacting some of the sources that Lewittes has cultivated over his career. He called the Gawker piece interesting and said he wasn’t surprised to see Us Weekly come out on top. (Click here to see my all-time favorite Us Weekly error.)
“I’ve never tried to quantify exactly how accurate some outlets are and how inaccurate other outlets are, but anecdotally I always felt Us was far more accurate than, say, Star,” he said. “It probably comes down to an ethos, which Us Weekly celebrates celebs a little more than Star. Star likes to do the ‘caught ya’ or ‘you’d never believe this’ stories.”
Gossip Cop’s trade is gossip about gossip. As if that wasn’t meta enough, Lewittes uses gossip reporting techniques to verify the work of gossip reporters.
As an example, here’s the site’s commentary about a recent In Touch story on Britney Spears:
In Touch alleges that dad Jamie Spears and boyfriend Jason Trawick have been “working behind her back to revamp her image,” part of a “secret plan” that included the careful orchestration of her August trip with Trawick to Hawaii.