The appetite for scandal news, both here and in the U.K., is so insatiable that tabloid journalists are forever creating or “discovering” new celebrities whose peccadilloes—especially sexual ones—can be reported. How else to explain the rise of the Kardashians? This appetite has no automatic right to a meal but the healthy market for the “red top” tabs in the U.K. and their U.S. counterparts—Star and Us, TV shows like TMZ, and celebrity columns in every U.S. daily newspaper—confirms how mainstream and widespread the consumption of gossip is. McMullan is right: The demand so demonstrably creates the supply that it requires us to pause long enough to figure out why we so love anything approaching a scandal, even if the exposé doesn’t contribute to the “public interest.”
—Jack Shafer writes about the News of the World scandal. Editor Paul McMullan made the excuse that what he did was okay because it’s what the public wants. And that’s weird! But it’s also true about what the public wants. Sometimes we want garbage.
Who among us will turn down gossip, especially of a sexual nature, about classmates, officemates, causal acquaintances, Hollywood actors, politicians, and all the way up to complete strangers? Bates helps us understand when he quotes C. Edwin Baker: “Gossip is an essential means of communication.” We crave intimate details of others’ lives because they give us a sense of power over them; because the intimate details of others’ lives help us understand our own; because the intimate details of others’ lives give us social currency and social standing. “Scandal news, like literature, illuminates human nature,” Bates writes.