ALIENS, LIZ . . . AND NEWT
11:00 PM, Nov 5, 1995 • By TUCKER CARLSON
For bored shoppers seeking titillation in the supermarket checkout line, the October i0 issue of the National Enquirer did not disappoint. Sandwiched between write-ups on Mexican wolf boys and Oprah's suicidal niece, one story stood out as the week's most lurid. hockingly, at least 600,000 children are being bought and sold on our nation's streets today for the perverted sexual pleasure of adults," began a story on page 19. "Incredibly, some of them are only toddlers, 3, 4, and 5. It is one of America's greatest shames!"
Toddler sex slaves? For sale on city streets? It was enough to make even jaded Enquirer readers put down their groceries and pay attention. And it got worse. In prose as purple as any churned out at the tabloid's Lantana, Florida, headquarters, the author went on to describe "boys and girls standing in doorways, waiting for lecherous lowlifes to express interest"; pimps "buying and selling children like so much meat in a butcher shop"; and kids willing to "have sex for whatever it takes to survive another day -- a hot pizza, a place to sleep, a coat to wear."
Shocking stuff. But so was the byline that accompanied the story: "Rep. Jack Kingston (R.-Ga.)"
Or maybe not so shocking. As regular readers of the tabloid know, Jack Kingston isn't the first member of Congress to write for the National Enquirer, though he may have come the closest to replicating the newspaper's unique prose style. Kingston's colleagues have been appearing in the Enquirer for years, flying far below the radar of official Washington to reach an otherwise unreachable audience. At least that's the idea.
Like any sensible politician, Kingston didn't just describe America's latest, greatest shame; he offered a solution: "We need a tough new federal law to combat child prostitution, one that provides hefty mandatory no-parole sentences for the adults involved. I will work hard to see that such legislation is passed."
How did a respected second-term Republican from Savannah end up in pages normally reserved for voluptuous gal pals, cheating hubbies, and Liz? Not by accident, says his press secretary, Robyn Ridgley, who boasts that her boss has appeared in the tabloid quite a few times. "Jack is not a snob towards the Enquirer." Nor should he be, says Ridgley, since tabloids like the Enquirer "do more to research the accuracy of their stories than probably any major newspaper combined, and they will have less corrections than the Washington Post and the New York Times. They go out of their way and probably have more lawyers on staff than anyone else because they have so much at stake."
Ridgley should know. She used to work in the "inner circle" of television producer Norman Lear (she describes the experience as "fabulous, fabulous" and Lear as "an old-fashioned family man," who "loved my conservative, old- fashioned family values -- but that's another story"). She also once wrote an episode of The Facts of Life, an early-80s sitcom. "I've got like 20 years experience in Hollywood with every superstar you could name," she says. So when Robyn Ridgley talks about tabloids, it's with the gravity of an insider. "They can be your greatest friend or your greatest enemy," she explains.
For Jack Kingston, Ridgley says, they've been a boon companion, "an extremely valuable asset." And why not? Ridgley claims that she and the congressman have nothing against residents of trailer parks, nor do they " judge people who read tabloids -- let "era." From time to time, editors from the Enquirer "call us to give us the opportunity to what we call "blast" something. They bring us the facts and figures on a story they're working on and they'll ask us to fill in a quote." Ridgley admits that the paper does take liberties with the truth -- in fact, she says, in her days with Norman Lear, she never spoke to the Enquirer because "my integrity wouldn't allow me to." Then again, Norman Lear doesn't have to run for offxce every two years. Jack Kingston does.
So if the estimates about kiddie hookers sound unlikely, not to say ridiculous, so what? "We can't swear to it," says Ridgley, "but just like other statistics, they're as sound as -- well, you know." Accuracy, in other words, is not the key. "The key," Ridgley explains, "is to communicate with the people in your district. If it does that, we'll do it."