This morning, Dan Abrams announced on the Today show the launch of his newest Internet product, Gossip Cop, a follow-up, if not quite an offshoot, of his Mediaite brand. Basically, the premise of the site is to gauge whether celebrity stories are true. (“JENNIFER ANISTON JUST ‘FRIENDS’ WITH GERARD BUTLER” reads a sample headline.“‘IN TOUCH’ MICHAEL JACKSON STORIES ARE OUT OF TOUCH” reads another.) So far, most of the items are deemed fake, usually because of a simple publicist denial, if even that. Let’s make a list of why this is no fun:
Reason One: If the site was like Snopes.com, in that it got into how these bizarre stories came about, that would be fascinating, or at least funny. Like, Lindsay Lohan once fell down a well, shouted to Lassie for help, Lassie got a rescue team, and then later, when Lindsay only gave him a dog treat as a reward because she is out of work, the collie sold his story to the British News of the World scandal sheet. Pretending to understand his barks, a reporter naturally interpreted that Lindsay was going to be on the next season of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! Presto! A gossip item.
But of course there aren’t really such backstories. At some point, somebody (either a source or a reporter) usually just makes these items up out of whole cloth, or twists a small fact or hearsay beyond recognition. And even if there were backstories, Gossip Cop does not appear to try to ferret them out.
Reason Two: Publicist denials are not only boring, they’re meaningless. These are people who are paid to lie to protect their clients. Some don’t, which is admirable, but “Page Six” keeps a hilarious running tally of celebrity publicists who are proven liars, a couple of whom are quoted in the first day of Gossip Cop.
Reason Three: Many of these denials are already included in the original gossip item, particularly if it makes it to print. We’ve already seen all this stuff.
Reason Four: Furthermore, we don’t care whether the gossip is true. Studies have shown that people care more whether a story is sensational than whether it’s factual. It’s only natural! That’s why all of this stuff is called “gossip,” and it’s why the celebrity tabloids survive. Blatantly implausible stories are run all the time, with denials included, and we’ll read them anyway because of the entertainment value. Gossip Cop is taking the fun out of one of the only fun things we have left these days.
Gossip Cop [Official site]