Last month, John Harris, a legendary reporter for the National Enquirer, died at the age of 76. One of his colleagues, David Wright, talks about Harris's most famous assignment for the Enquirer: a search for Utopia.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last month John Harris, a longtime reporter for The National Enquirer, died at the age of 76. He started at The Enquirer during the paper’s glory days in the 1970s. That was back when Generoso Pope, the tabloid’s eccentric millionaire publisher, was flush with cash and happy to spend it. And for a few months he spent a lot of it on a dream assignment for the young scribe, John Harris. One of his Enquirer colleagues, David Wright, remembers when an editor thought of a lead just begging for a story.
DAVID WRIGHT: The Enquirer finds Utopia.
[BROOKE LAUGHS] And he just loved that idea, and within an hour John Harris was on his way to Utopia, or one of many. He set off, first of all, oddly enough, for Scotland, because one of the top editors at The Enquirer at that time was Scottish and knew of a little island in the Highlands that he thought would fit the bill.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I think it’s called Brigadoon.
DAVID WRIGHT: [LAUGHS] When John got there, it turned out to be rather chilly, and Generoso Pope didn't think that fit Utopia at all. So he then set off for Greece, and he went around the Mediterranean, in Spain. Nothing fit the bill. The editors were getting desperate, but every week John would move on to somewhere else and find a new paradise, and every week Generoso Pope would find something wrong with it. Tahiti looked very promising, and then suddenly it transpired that they had a weekly newspaper.
[BROOKE LAUGHS] And Mr. Pope thought that that didn't quite fit the description of paradise, to have a newspaper there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There was a place that was disqualified because it had parking meters.
DAVID WRIGHT: Yes, of course. As these barriers became bigger and bigger each week the editors tried to disguise [LAUGHS] the, the drawbacks. But Mr. Pope would grill them every week, and he’d winkle out of them any drawbacks that happened to be there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He never found it, right?
DAVID WRIGHT: No. He went on to Bora Bora, Fiji, Samoa, Molokai, the Seychelles, Sri Lanka; he just went on and on and on for months. And there was no way he could come home because Mr. Pope loved the idea and wouldn't give it up. And he said he’s got to find it somewhere. So on he went on his odyssey.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now David, my understanding is there was never a story published about his search.
DAVID WRIGHT: No. I'll tell you what happened in the end. He ended up in Western Samoa, and it sounded like the ultimate paradise. He filed a story from there, and the editors saw it and went rushing in to Mr. Pope and said, I think we've got it this time. This is after six months of his odyssey. Mr. Pope scanned the story, and it looked as if this was going to be it. And then suddenly Mr. Pope said, how did he get this story to you, and the editors said, well, he phoned it in. They dictated it, Mr. Pope. And he said, you don't have telephones in paradise!
[LAUGHTER] Get him home! And that was the end of it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Don't take this personally because I don't mean it that way, but this is The National Enquirer. Did this really happen?
DAVID WRIGHT: [LAUGHS] Oh, it really did.
[BROOKE LAUGHS] It really did.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, thank you very much.
DAVID WRIGHT: You’re welcome, Brooke.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Wright is a senior reporter at The National Enquirer. This is On the Media from NPR.