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A Story Too Hot for Mainstream Media

Sometimes it’s embarrassing to work for the Establishment media. When you get scooped on a big story, your editors are often just too stuffy or stubborn to follow it.

Consider the reaction to the most shocking news report to emerge from the Northridge earthquake: “L.A. QUAKE OPENS GATES OF HELL!” If you saw the headline in the Weekly World News, you must have seen its stunning “exclusive photo” of a monstrous creature emerging from the fissure in the freeway.

Nick Mann’s “special report” is loaded with info you’ll see nowhere else: President Clinton, no less, has persuaded Gov. Pete Wilson to order the National Guard to “find and neutralize” the “17 and possibly 18 demons” that emerged from “the crack in the Golden State Freeway one by one, around 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 17.” Not only that, but National Guardsmen fired 200 rounds into one demon without inflicting so much as a scratch! And the real magnitude wasn’t 6.6 or 6.7 or 6.8 . . . but really 6.66! That’s right: Take out the decimal and you’ve got the sign of the Devil!

Meanwhile, the news snobs, obsessing over the likes of Tonya Harding, Michael Jackson and the Bobbitts, act like this is some big joke. An item for Only in L.A.

Gates of Hell. Demons. 6.66.

Ha ha ha.

*

How soon they forget that it was Weekly World News’ sister publication, the National Enquirer, that first published photos of presidential candidate Gary Hart frolicking on the Monkey Business with old what’s-her-name. Donna Something.

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True, the Enquirer paid one of Ms. Something’s pals for the info and those photos. Heck, if those Arkansas state troopers kept an Instamatic handy, they might be rich now. Just because the tabloids practice checkbook journalism doesn’t mean they don’t come up with the goods sometimes.

Hmmm. Could it be that the Weekly World News made a deal with . . . SATAN!

Since no one else seems to have the guts to pursue this story, I took it upon myself to call Lantana, Fla., home of both the Enquirer and the Weekly World News. (That’s another thing that bugs me: How could a Florida-based weekly have whupped our fannies in our own back yard?)

Now, it’s understood that reporters can be a sneaky bunch. When I reached the offices of the Weekly World News, I never misrepresented myself--that would be unethical. But I didn’t just come right out and ask them if they were in bed with Satan, either. Instead, I asked to speak to someone about their T-shirt offer, which was true as far as it goes.

The operator put me through to Irene Crossman.

She’s the office manager and the T-shirt maven. You see, the Weekly World News sells T-shirts silk-screened with some of their more memorable covers.

Irene says it started with employees making shirts for themselves. Then somebody had the bright idea of offering them to the public. Readers can send in for, say, the cover depicting President Clinton’s secret encounter with a space alien. Or the farmer who bagged a 23-pound grasshopper. Or the boy with the eight-inch tongue (“and it’s still growing!”).

I asked whether the Weekly World News would be marketing a “Gates of Hell” T-shirt in the near future. I suggested that, with all the “I Survived the Great L.A. Earthquake” shirts being sold around town, they are missing a great opportunity.

“Well,” Irene Crossman said, “we hadn’t planned it. But it’s not a big deal to do it. I do want to make another--the ‘Famed Psychic’s Head Explodes.’ ” That edition, from the early ‘80s, “was very popular,” Irene added.

Gingerly, I worked toward the key questions.

“I see you reported that the true magnitude was 6.66,” I ventured.

“Well,” Irene said with a knowing laugh, “we couldn’t help ourselves with that one.”

Her giggle could only be described as devilish.

*

Before long, Irene Crossman was on to me. She could sense that this wasn’t just a reader asking about T-shirts but a reporter pursuing the story of the century.

“Are you going to write a story?” she said. “I better have you talk with Eddie.”

This would be Eddie Clontz, the editor of Weekly World News. Irene, nothing if not polite, promised that she would relay my message to Clontz. She promised to send me some T-shirts, gratis. Of course I insisted on paying full price. This reporter can’t be bought.

Irene assured me that Eddie Clontz would call me back. So far, he hasn’t. Not that I blame him. It’s not his job to help the competition.

Still, it makes you wonder. If the Weekly World News wasn’t in cahoots with Hades, well, they might at least appreciate the fact that I awakened them to a fertile market. In the weeks ahead, if you see people running around Los Angeles in “Gates of Hell” T-shirts, you’ll know they took my advice.

Now, it seems obvious that a decent organization, one with nothing to hide, would send a royalty check.

The money, I assure you, would be given to a worthy cause.


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