Tab Wars: Breaking News or Faking News?

This year Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been married three different times on three different continents, divorced twice and split for good after Oprah Winfrey organized a reunion show between Pitt and ex-wife Jennifer Aniston -- or so read the splashy headlines of American celebrity magazines.

In the top-grossing genre of celebrity media coverage, rumor and gossip are often mistaken for the truth. Now one title is on a crusade to expose errors inside its competitor's covers.

But in a country addicted to the Hollywood story, is fiction more valuable than fact?

From Breaking News to Faking News

In early May, celebrity magazine Us Weekly began publishing a section called Faux Biz, in which it calls out false reporting from rival rags such as Life & Style, In Touch, OK! and Star. The two-page spread detailed errors in reporting since 2005 in the Pitt-Jolie story by Life & Style and In Touch.

"Brangelina did what? Nope, turns out they didn't. A look at two mags' twisted records," read the section's subtitle.

Us Weekly editor in chief Janice Min said the section was born out of necessity rather than spite.

"When the business of reporting on celebrities is attached to these copycat publications that fabricate stories, yes, it was a conscious decision to clarify Us's position," said Min.

A lot is at stake. In 2006, Min's magazine brought in over $250 million in combined circulation sales, while In Touch grossed just over half that amount, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Min said her title is being threatened by younger publications that value entertainment over reality.

"It seems that the imitation has gone to a place that's actually strange now," said Min. "Where Us Weekly had made its name breaking news, these publications have crossed the line into faking news."

Bauer Publishing, the parent company of both In Touch and Life & Style, declined to comment on the situation. Calls to OK! and Star were not returned.

Looking for Truth in All the Wrong Places

Magazine analyst Samir Husni said all of this infighting is bad for the industry. He has studied celebrity magazines for the past 25 years and now chairs the journalism department at the University of Mississippi.

"It's unfair for Us Weekly to do this," said Husni. "It's going to hurt all of us in the end because this nitpicking and fights among these magazines won't do any favors for the audience -- they're losing sight of who's really important."

While Min maintains her magazine has a duty to its readers to reveal the truth -- Husni said that's not really what the audience is looking for.

"We are a nation addicted to that type of gossip -- people are not picking up those magazines looking for the need to know the truth," said Husni. "Magazines are more like Prozac for the readers, these are disposable items."

The Celebrity Beat

Min is trying to separate her title from this generalization. She said erroneous reporting wouldn't be tolerated in other industries.

"This world of following celebrities is to women what sports is to men, and nobody would ever tolerate this kind of conduct in those industries," said Min.

Us even calls itself a "celebrity magazine" in an effort to avoid the "tabloid" logo.

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