Publication date: 03/03/2002
Tabloid sleaze goes beyond the headlines
By Jeffrey Scott Shapiro
Special To The Examiner
CAROLYN CONDIT, the wife of Rep. Gary Condit, recently filed a $10 million lawsuit against the National Enquirer for alleging that she had a verbal confrontation with Chandra Levy shortly before Levy's disappearance.
Although the article probably shocked the Condit family, and perhaps many of the Enquirer's readers, it came as no surprise to me. I was used to seeing such stories. I had once worked for the people who wrote them.
At 23 years of age, I was recruited as the lead investigator on the JonBenet Ramsey case for the Globe tabloid. My job was to find information that would support my editors' claims that John Ramsey was a pedophile who murdered his daughter after sexually molesting her. One year later, the newspaper's editors reversed their claim and accused his wife, Patsy, instead. A year after that, they changed their story once more and falsely accused the couple's 9-year-old son, Burke, who had already been publicly cleared by the police.
It became clear to me that it was in the Globe's interest to see the Ramseys prosecuted. I first realized this when my editor, Tony Frost, confided to me that if the family were exonerated, the Globe could be found liable for millions of dollars from defamation suits.
"There must be an indictment," Frost said of the Ramseys. "Otherwise we're finished, all of us, every single last one of us."
In a later conversation, Frost admitted, "The Globe, and Tony Frost in particular, have more reason to go for the Ramseys than the police have."
It dawned on me that I was working for an industry that was not only corrupting the judicial process, but trying to control it.
To begin with, I knew that the tabloids sometimes reported false information to the authorities. This was their way of maintaining some control over the investigation so that the police would focus more on the Ramseys rather than an intruder.
I also found that many payments to "sources" were not for authentic information but, rather, financial rewards to people who agreed to accept attribution for "quotes" that tabloid reporters had already written.
Sometimes, when the tabloids couldn't find a new witness to interview, they often paid a "source" to report their anti-Ramsey claims to the police or FBI, giving the story more credibility. My editors did virtually anything they could to say the authorities were investigating their "shocking new scenario," when those claims were often baseless and false -- wasting investigators' precious time.
With deliberate intent, the tabloids steeled their reporters to action, disrupting the judicial process any way they could.
Two years into my investigation I decided to leave the Globe. The first place I went was to the Denver headquarters of the FBI. Before long, I was testifying against my editors before a grand jury that eventually indicted a Globe editor for blackmailing a police officer and a lawyer for commercial bribery.
THE CHANDRA LEVY investigation didn't interest me until I realized that the tabloids were treating the Condits in the same manner they had treated the Ramseys. And when accusing Gary Condit no longer held readers' attention, the tabloids accused his wife instead -- a common tabloid tactic.
One thing is for sure -- the Enquirer's accusations against Carolyn Condit certainly caught her attention. Hopefully, it will catch the attention of a jury too, because it doesn't seem fair that she and her children suffer the wrath of the tabloids -- stalked by paparazzi, accused of murder and having their personal lives probed.
I personally hope that Condit wins her lawsuit. Based on my experience working for the tabloids, I suspect that she will. Eleven days before the Enquirer published its story, the Washington Metro Police denied that any such phone call between Condit and Levy ever took place.
Like the offending stories written about Burke Ramsey, the tabloids had prior knowledge that the information they were publishing was false. And as happened with the Globe after the Burke stories, I suspect the Enquirer will settle this case as quickly and quietly as possible -- if its editors know what's good for them.
Although the tabloids claim their only goal is helping police locate Chandra Levy, it seems they're spending more time knocking on the doors of Gary Condit's alleged ex-mistresses than looking for any real clues. Their only contribution to finding the missing intern is based on fabricated leads and irrelevant theories, which have led investigators nowhere and destroyed innocent lives.
In the end, the tabloids will leave behind nothing but their true signature -- a trail of tears shed by a family forced to endure their tyranny.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro investigated the JonBenet Ramsey case for the Globe from 1997 until 1999 when he reported his employers to the FBI. He now works as a freelance journalist.