Being for the Benefit of Mr. Clontz

by on January 29th, 2004

Eddie Clontz, editor of the Weekly World News for twenty years before retiring three years ago, died of complications from diabetes. He was 56.

There isn’t a person alive that has actually been to a supermarket and has not been influenced by Weekly World News. It was (and still is) the ultimate tabloid, and perhaps the last link to the old bygone days of Joseph “Prize” Pulitzer and “yellow journalism.” Except WWN was far loonier, and perhaps weirdest of all, sorta sincere…

“Never question yourself out of a good story. You have got to know when to stop asking questions.” Clontz once said.

Weekly World News probably leaves its biggest impression on children. I remember reading the tabloid’s headlines as a kid waiting for my mom to checkout her groceries, and reading a headline about some Frog Child, with a picture of a deformed Kermit the Frog blown up tabloid style on the cover. As a kid, I was skeptical, but I figured it was a newspaper, so I asked my Mom to verify this for me.

“Is this true?” I asked.

“What true?”

“This…” I pointed my finger over to the cover.

My Mom hesitated, then offered a careful explanation:

“Well, not exactly. It’s called a tabloid. Tabloids tend to take a kernal of truth, and then embellish or exaggerate it enough so that it makes a better story and people will buy the paper.”

Which might make a good case for why the National Enquirer is the way it is, but the Weekly World News? Screaming Bat Boys hanging out in caves in West Virginia? Space aliens endorsing US Presidents? Elvis resurrecting himself time and time again, over decades, centuries?

I of course pleaded with my mom to buy the paper, to discover for myself what kernal of truth lay underneath all the hyperbole.

For some reason, Eddie Clontz and company made it a point to defile and stretch the very notions of embellishment and exaggeration, let alone the “truth.” And his bunch gave a good reason to give other “serious” journalists, who try to report the truth but also like to tell a good story along the way, a greater measure of respect.

“We don’t know whether the stories are true, and we don’t really care,” Clontz once said. “When we inform people, it’s usually an accident.”

And if the afterlife is managed by soul-collecting space robots, at least we’ll know that Clontz is in good hands.

Edward E.J. Davis