Tabloids Facing Scrutiny, Ouster From Supermarkets Celebrities Are Striking Back. They Reportedly Will Seek Dirt On Three Tabloid Bosses And Paparazzi.

Posted: September 05, 1997

Supermarkets censoring tabloids, celebrities stalking paparazzi - how the worm is turning for those who profit from private glimpses of public figures.

Earlier this week, several supermarket chains around the country announced they would pull from their shelves any tasteless coverage of the life and death of Princess Diana. Already pulled by some stores are issues of the National Enquirer and the Star, printed before the fatal crash in Paris, detailing Diana's romance with Dodi al-Fayed.

Nationally, Safeway said individual U.S. and Canadian supermarkets in its 1,367-store chain were removing Sept. 9 issues of the Star, which featured an article about ``Di's New Loveboat Cruise.''

Winn-Dixie, which operates 1,200 stores, mainly in the South, has pledged to pull any tabloids carrying graphic pictures of the accident because ``it would be objectionable to our customers.''

In the Philadelphia area, the 27-market Genuardi chain has removed the Enquirer dated Sept. 9 because ``it had what we considered extremely objectionable editorial content,'' said Genuardi spokesman Alan Tempest. The headline in the offending issue: ``Di Goes Sex Mad; `It's the Best I've Ever Had.' ''

Now the top men at the tabloids are themselves the targets of inquiring minds.

According to syndicated columnist Liz Smith, three top Hollywood celebrities have pooled their money to hire private investigators to search for delicate information about the Enquirer's Steve Coz, the Star's Phil Bunton and the Globe's Tony Frost.

Neither Coz, Bunton nor Frost returned calls yesterday.

Smith said the celebrities are also on the lookout for information about Phil Ramey, Russell Turiak, Vinnie Zuffante and Alan Zanger, paparazzi all. She wrote that the celebrities, whom she did not name, would spend ``millions'' to uncover whatever dirt exists about these men's wives, girlfriends, relatives and friends. She did not speculate what the celebrities would do with any of this information.

Already a cast of celebrities has contacted the media to vent anger at those who take intrusive pictures. Within hours of the crash, Tom Cruise called CNN to say: ``I've actually been in that same tunnel being chased by paparazzi, and they run lights and chase you and harass you the whole time. It happens all over the world.''

Madonna told the Times of London: ``Anyone who has ever been chased like that and who has had to live that sort of life hit the wall with her [Diana].''

Elizabeth Taylor went a step further. ``The paparazzi murdered her [Diana],'' Taylor said in a statement. ``She was a heroine and she was killed by the greed of the paparazzi who were fed by the tabloids.''

George Clooney held a news conference Tuesday vowing to ``spend every free moment trying to change'' the requirement that plaintiffs prove ``malicious intent'' in libel suits.

Legislation could be on the way. California state Sen. Tom Hayden has proposed a law that would prevent photographers from getting within 50 to 100 feet of stars if they are not taking part in public events.

``We've talked about creating a safety zone or bubble not unlike the safety zone created around abortion clinics that the Supreme Court has upheld,'' said Rocky Rushing, Hayden's chief of staff. ``We're looking at whether or not it's possible for an unwilling subject to have a buffer between himself and the crush of the unyielding paparazzi.''

Some people argue that, by virtue of choosing to be in the public eye, celebrities give up any right to complain or protect themselves from the press. Rushing likened such an argument to the ``she asked for it'' defense in rape cases. ``That's ludicrous,'' he said.

The anti-tabloid backlash doesn't surprise Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism at New York University and author of A History of News. But he does not consider the behavior of photographers or the culture of celebrity to be the story here.

``This idea of the wealthy, the powerful, the beautiful having to put up with some intrusions by gossiping others is as old, I think, as language,'' he said. ``From everything I'm hearing, she [Diana] was killed by a drunk driver. She was not wearing seat belts. And [the car] was speeding.

``The problem of paparazzi does not strike me as one of the great social issues of our time, compared to those issues.''

Bob Lissit, a journalism professor at Syracuse University, said that he worried about what might follow stores' taking newspapers with offensive pictures off their racks:

``Suppose the next month, the owner of a supermarket chain decides he doesn't like the editorial policy of your newspaper or the New York Times of the Washington Post. It does have in it a kind of potential alarm bell.''

Lissit was sitting at his desk, paging through the Globe, which contained pre-crash headlines such as ``Di Makes Love'' and 25 ``exclusive'' photos of her and her ``playboy.'' Said Lissit, ``That is not journalism as I know it. People like to read about people, but I think the tabloids may go a little too far in meeting that demand.''

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