Scandal sheets and tabloid newspapers are nothing new and historically have been around for hundreds of years. In Regency England, gossip papers such as the Morning Post served up a regular diet of bawdy stories, often involving high society personalities. More recently the New York Post, owned by Ruper Murdoch, has set a standard in sensational bottom of the barrel journalism that borders on the absurd. Their infamous headline, “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR” now reigns as a kind of deranged classic, seldom equalled by the world wide gutter press.

Anybody who uses a computer or smart phone regularly these days will be aware of numerous sites, which carry on the tradition of reporting the kind of news items that are instantly forgettable, bar their novelty value. Unfortunately a large number of people click on this dumbed down content, which commercially, means the sites will go on flogging it and have the justification to do so. Often the spurious material runs side by side with the real news stories of the day, like the turmoil in Gaza, providing a kind of anaesthetic from the reality of what’s really happening in the world today.

New York Post front page, April 1963.

You can of course avoid sites like MSN News which mix the relevant with the banal (and a story and photograph of Donald Trump just about everyday) and get your internet news feed from the ABC or perhaps The Guardian. You probably also need to cleanse your computer or phone of the various notifications that come from Google and alike that invariably focus on the dumbest stories of the day.

It’s somewhat of a shame that the Weekly World News, produced in the USA from 1979 to 2007 no longer comes out in print. At its peak popularity it had a readership of well over a million and regularly surfaced at newsagents in Australia. It was of course, almost a total parody on the tabloid press, with totally outrageous stories and doctored photos. Side by side on newstands with the New York Post it was probably hard to tell just who was telling the truth, but it’s pisstake approach highlighted just how mendacious many of the other tabloids were.

World Weekly News front page, October 2001.

With the proliferation of deep fake photos and constant celebrity drivel, the dumb and dumber news sites can only get worse. The laws of libel and slander seem very loose here. Take for example the recent fake pics of Channel 9 personality Richard Wilkins supposedly being arrested by strong armed police which prompted various notifications claiming “Richard Wilkins arrested”. The phoney pics are still up all over the internet, despite his protests and personal hurt.

If ChatGPT is not already employed to churn out this balderdash, then it could easily do so – programmed perhaps with the entire output of the New York Post and Weekly World News combined. Together with AI inventing all manner of deep fake pics and videos, the tabloid website of the future would need zero human input.

Various doctored images of Richard Wilkins’ fake arrest.

There are so many ridiculous and idiotic ‘news’ stories appearing each day on the internet that it’s hard to nominate a winner of the worst ever. There are a multitude of tabloid titillations and celebrity revelations that could qualify but for the purpose of this story I nominate a recent story and headline in The Daily Mail which read:

“Margot Robbie tucks into a packet of Burger Rings during a trip back to Australia with husband Tom Ackerley and friends”

That’s right, to quote the Mail, “The Barbie star, 33, was pictured eating the delicious blend of tomato, cheese and barbeque-flavoured chips while chatting to her husband Tom Ackerley and friends.”

Whether this was some kind of sneaky product placement for Burger Rings, or the slowest news day of the decade, the Mail obviously saw it as newsworthy. Maybe, if Margot had been getting stuck into a barbeque of antipodean road kill, the story might have been of some interest – but Burger Rings?

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