The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope Jr. and the National Enquirer

By Jack Vitek

University Press of Kentucky

290 pages, $29.95

The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York

By Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

University of Chicago Press

278 pages, $20

In his entertaining but slapdash new biography of Generoso Pope Jr., who shepherded the tabloid National Enquirer to a circulation peak of over five million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Jack Vitek entices readers as skillfully as any headline writer in the heyday of Florida’s “Tabloid Triangle.” And he, too, sometimes puts more tease than meat into his prose. Vitek, a former journalist who teaches journalism and English at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, likes to backpedal away from his own bombshells. That leads to the following disclosures about the man who, Vitek admits up front, had a “dull lifestyle” and a “dour personality.”

Pope might have had Asperger’s syndrome, but that tells us more about the syndrome than the man. Because he probably had Mafia connections, Pope might have attended the funeral of the mobster Frank Costello, but no one knows for sure. Pope invented modern tabloid culture, except that in all his years as editor, he wrote hardly a word of copy, nearly all of his editorial decisions were “intuitive” or “arbitrary,” and he didn’t like celebrity stories but ran them because otherwise readers stopped buying. If he hadn’t died in 1988, Pope might have thought of ways to boost the paper’s cratering circulation in the difficult 1990s, or the tabloidization of the mainstream press might have made that impossible.