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August 8, 2007

No More Vermont Bat Boy?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:06 PM * 56 comments

Jay: *These* are the hot sheets?

Kay: Best investigative reporting on the planet. But go ahead, read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes.
Men In Black (1997)

Alas, the Weekly World News, long a stalwart of reportage no one else dared to print, is going out of business. The intrepid reporters who scooped all the mainstream press when the WWII bomber was found on the moon, the guys who told you in unflinching detail how to determine if your neighbors and co-workers were space aliens, the amazing journalists who followed the adventures of the Vermont Bat Boy on his round-the-world travels … are about to be out of a job.

Founded as a way to use the old black-and-white presses when the National Enquirer went full-color, the Weekly World News made standing in line at the grocery store fun. What now? Will we be reduced to reading the less-factual accounts of celebrity dating?

The Weekly World News was the Official Newspaper of the SFRT on GEnie.

Now comes the big question: Who will print Elvis’ obituary when he dies for real?

Comments on No More Vermont Bat Boy?:
#1 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 04:22 PM:

Heck, who am I going to turn to now when I need updates on the mafia's casino construction on Mars? I was trying to plan a vacation, darnit!

#2 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 04:48 PM:

Maybe the problem is that everyone looked at it in line, but not enough people bought it.

I'll miss it.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 04:49 PM:

Dang. Now Ed Anger's going to have to spend his days hanging out at LGF.

#4 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 04:52 PM:

I'm pig-biting mad!

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 04:55 PM:

Nooo!!! I'll never find out the truth about Saddam Hussein's genetically engineered dinosaurs with the laser cannons mounted on their heads!

#6 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 04:57 PM:

There is something sad about the disappearance of a newspaper that once had as its front-page headline 'John Lennon returns... as a crow!'

#7 ::: Jon Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 05:03 PM:

There's an amusing essay/eulogy in today's LA Times from a former WWN, um, reporter - Weekly World News Meets God!

#8 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 05:05 PM:

My favorite headline was about the Big Foot hooker seen "propositioning Clinton and Kennedy as the two Democratic Party heavyweights were waiting at a Washington traffic light in a sleek black limousine" Her name was Helen, her pimp was Francois. She was first sited plying her wares in Beasley, Canada.

#9 ::: Nathan ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 05:05 PM:


Your dismissive attitude toward these intrepid reporters is not appreciated. Those brave soldiers of the fourth estate dared to tell the truth when others quailed at the very thought. The world is going to be a much less informed place with the loss of this fine paper. Fah, I say to your objective reporting of the Presidential election. Bah, I say to you unbiased investigative journalism. Hah, I say to your respectful Op/Ed pieces.

God save the BatBoy!

#10 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 05:06 PM:

oops - "sighted". sigh.

#11 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 05:36 PM:

When I bought the tabs -- which was rarely -- I bought WWN, because their focus was on totally made-up shit instead of starfucking. (I still remember being slightly shocked, one day, to realize that People was the Enquirer on nicer paper. And it was a long time ago.)

How to tell if your co-workers are space aliens!
Science on verge of creating plant people!

Where will we go for our crazy, half-baked theories and their cheesy Photoshopped evidence?

Oh yeah, we're soaking in it. The Internet. Whew.

#12 ::: Richard Crawford ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 05:44 PM:

In his blog, Bob Greenburger, one of the editors of the WWN, wrote this:

Friday morning, Jeff Rovin comes in for a meeting and then the staff was to be called in. He’s looking harried, not at all relaxed. At 11:30, we’re finally shown into an office where we are told the Board of Directors has chosen to close Weekly World News. The reasons given make no sense. We’re stunned and shell-shocked. We’re to stay on through August 3, finishing the reprint issues and then we’re done. A glorious, funny, odd publication, born in 1979, will go out with a whimper and all I can think is that something’s going on that they’re not telling us because it just doesn’t make sense.

"It just doesn't make sense..." Perhaps a scoop is in the making here. It all kind of reminds me of when Art Bell "retired" for the first time, and did nothing to quell the rumors that he had been visited by "government agents" demanding that he keep quiet.

I'll bet a doughnut this is a publicity ploy on the part of WWN; they're going to claim the government forced them to shut down, but they'll be back in a few months with new breaking stories about angels sitting in on Presidential cabinet meetings.

Then again, maybe not.

#13 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 06:18 PM:

I've been mourning the pending loss for weeks.

No more
Oil Rigs in Alaska puncture hole to hell!
Dick Cheney is a robot!
World's Fattest Cat
Osama in Alaska with Eskimo love slave!

And the references to "The News" in So I Married an Axe Murderer just won't be the same.

#14 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 06:43 PM:

Back when I used to teach physics, I used select issues of the WWN in my classes. There was one issue that warned us of the nefarious Chinese plot to destroy the Earth by having the entire country's population jump at the same time. The combined force of their jump would knock the Earth out of its orbit, sending it into the icy depths of space. Only an intrepid band of some ten barflies in Chicago stood between us and certain doom, as they were also going to jump at the same time and thus counter the Chinese jump.

It was always fun to lead a class through this. "Will the Chicagoans be successful?" I'd ask, and invariably the class would point out that ten people versus one billion was no contest. Then I'd ask if the reputed Chinese plot had any chance of succeeding and the head-scratching would begin.

#15 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 07:18 PM:

West Virginia disputes Vermont's claim to the Bat Boy. Hotly. WV says it has much better caves and BB hangs out there more often than in New England. Contradicting this in any place that serves alcohol is not recommended.

#16 ::: Vanessa ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 08:26 PM:

I can't help but wonder whether the WWN is dying because it dumped its old formula of batshit crazy with nods to conservatives in favor of slightly less batshit, dorky puns/plays on words, and nods slightly more to the left.

I'll never forget the way they responded to 9/11 (am about to leave and so can't look up the link) -- they apparently discussed it among themselves and decided that the only way to respond to extremes in America was to go even further over the top. For that I salute them.

Off to track down a final copy somewhere.

#17 ::: jmmcdermott ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 09:02 PM:

i will miss them muchly.

batboy was so much more fun than celebrity cellulite.

everytime surreality dissipates in the world, a fairy loses his wings.

#18 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 09:04 PM:

Or, perhaps the WWN could no longer compete with the pure batshit crazy real news out of Washington DC. We might as well have space aliens directing our foreign policy. It would make more sense....

#19 ::: James Killus ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 09:26 PM:

"Now comes the big question: Who will print Elvis’ obituary when he dies for real?"

You obviously missed the 1992 edition of the WWN with the headline "Elvis Dead at 57!"

Of course that's not to say that he can't die again after his resurrection.

#20 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2007, 09:46 PM:

In #14, Stephen Granade writes:

There was one issue that warned us of the nefarious Chinese plot to destroy the Earth by having the entire country's population jump at the same time. The combined force of their jump would knock the Earth out of its orbit, sending it into the icy depths of space.


The seeds of this lie in the Leaping Chinese Earthquake Doomsday Weapon, first suggested by David Stone of the University of Alaska. I
remember reading about it in Time as a teenager.

If at a given moment, says Stone, all 750 million Chinese obeyed a command to jump from 6½-ft. platforms, they could constitute a "geophysical weapon." How? Assuming that the average Chinese weighs 110 lbs., he calculates, the energy released by this great leap downward would be equivalent to an earthquake of magnitude 4.5 on the Richter scale, causing extensive damage in China. But if the Chinese were organized to jump roughly every 54 minutes—just when the peak of a barely perceptible natural ripple that continually sweeps around the earth's surface passes through China—they might set up a world-girdling resonant ground wave that would cause even greater damage in distant lands. By properly aligning their millions and carefully timing the jump, for example, Peking could aim a ground wave along the Pacific-rim earthquake belt and possibly set off quakes in California far more devastating than the original shocks in China.

Would there be any defense? Certainly, says Stone. By having its population jump between the peaks of the ground waves stirred up by China, a threatened nation could damp them out before they grew intense enough to cause damage. There is one catch: the target nation would, of course, be less populous than China. Thus, to effectively counteract the massive Chinese geophysical aggression, its people would have to jump from higher platforms.

It has since been processed through the machinery of folklore, and turns up every now and then in various guises.

I wrote to Prof. Stone about this in 2006; he is amused to see the changes rung, like echoing seismic waves, on his idea:

"My favorite response to the great leap downward was in the London Economist where I was hailed as the saviour of the economy of SE Asia - who else could build 600 million step ladders?"

#21 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 12:42 AM:

I'm not sure Ed Anger would really fit in at LGF or conservative sites. One of my favorite Anger rants 10 or 15 years back was about how of course the military should allow gays to serve, because all the great military leaders of history were queer. Julius Caesar, queer! Lawrence of Arabia shot one of his lieutenants to death because his camel's color wasn't properly matched! &c. It was a great rant.

#22 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 01:20 AM:

I'll always believe they were inserting skeptical commentary into the segment of our population whose thought processes are entirely magical (27%). Evidence: Saddam's and Osama's gay marriage love child. This came out just before the war -- I think it was a lot of folks's first clue that Saddam and Osama were two different people.

So, you know. That means the government shut them down.

#23 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 04:41 AM:

It's a sad day. When I first heard they were shutting down, I thought they said they were going to continue on the Web.

That Post article was really good.

In slightly less surreal (and off-topic) news, Clownhall has just introduced its own vanity press! It's a collision of Miss Teresa's fave topics, sleazy publishers and wingnuttery!

#24 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 05:19 AM:

Like The Onion, or archy and mehitabel, the WWN was most wondrous when you first discovered it. For me, it was in the summer of 1984. WWN felt like it was somehow channeling the zeitgeist.

It's best put by Tracey Walter (Miller) in REPO MAN, the best American movie of the 1980s (in your face, RAGING BULL!) - a movie, by the way, in which the WWN played a pivotal part.

Really, the whole scene is worth a cut-and-paste:

Miller: A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything.

Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, "plate," or "shrimp," or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue. No explanation. No point in looking for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.

Otto: You eat a lot of acid, Miller, back in the hippie days?

Miller: I'll give you another instance: you know how everybody's into weirdness right now? Books in all the supermarkets about Bermuda triangles, UFO's, how the Mayans invented television and all?

Otto: I don't read them books.

This was reaching into the (not very distant) past, to the Firesign Theatre's Everything You Know Is Wrong ("The Aztecs invented the vacation!" And don't get me started on the Aztecs and the Tick, Itlan). And it echoed into the future, as you can hear in The Future Sound of London's "It's My Mind That Works" (1995), which samples it.

It's hard for anyone who lived through it to believe that a day would come when someone would be nostalgic for 1984. But just open this week's New Yorker, and read Jane Meyer's "The Black Sites." It makes weirdness seem like a luxury, a frivolous pastime from an earlier day, like playing a few hands of whist after the evening's singing.

It feels like what killed the WWN was not changing tastes (though they did) or the transformation of media (though there was that), but our entry into a time when weirdness is no longer a crazy fringe escape, comic relief for troubled times. Today weirdness is too real for comfort. We can't make fun of the weird anymore; the best we can do (and it's not good) is pretend that it isn't happening.

#25 ::: Natalie ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 09:28 AM:

About 15 years ago, the WWN actually printed a story that was true (I knew the people involved, and it really was a weirder-than-life sort of deal). I think that was probably the only time I ever saw anything even remotely true in the WWN.

#26 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 10:26 AM:

My dad and I used to discuss the WWN stories while waiting in line at the old Community store in Chicago (a precursor of WalMart, I guess). It took a moment or two for these two recent immigrants to realize these folks were not for real...

#27 ::: Stephen Granade ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 10:26 AM:

Bill @ 20: That's fabulous. I've no idea whether that directly inspired the WWN article, but I choose to believe it did regardless. And, really, isn't that kind of belief what the WWN was all about?

Natalie @ 25: The only time you saw something far as you know. There are things man was not meant to know except as an article in the WWN.

#28 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 10:35 AM:

Bob Greenburger is a good, long-time friend of mine.

He deserved better.

#29 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 10:50 AM:

No more Batboy stories! No more wondering who The Alien will endorse for President! I grieve.

#30 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 11:54 AM:

My husband's favorite lunchroom reading gone? He'll be devastated.

#31 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 12:11 PM:

At least I still have Science Daily online for entertainment. The past 24 hours includes stories on "Why Nectar-Feeding Bats Need a 'Power Drink' to Fly" (would that be Cthul-Ade?), and "Potato Chip Flavoring Boosts Longevity of Concrete".

#32 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 01:01 PM:

My favorite WWN story was a headline which was probably perfectly true, yet relied on a completely different view of reality:

"Study finds, 60% of shamans not actual witch doctors!"

What I loved about the WWN was that, while other tabloids announced news that would be surprising if true, the WWN assumed that the world of the tabloids was true and then asked what news would still be surprising to inhabitants of that world. Thus "Elvis dead!" and "Hillary found in bed with alien!"

#33 ::: Kevin McCarty ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Is there somewhere I can pre-order the Complete Weekly World News archive on DVD? Will it include full-color covers, and be searchable?

#34 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 02:50 PM:

My favorite was the one after
"B52 Found on Moon!"
when some earnest reader took a photo of the moon, with the area in question enlarged, and sent it to WWN to show that, in fact, there was no B52 on the moon.

"B52 disappears from Moon!"

#35 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 03:50 PM:

I wrote this over at Ezra Klein's place yesterday, and I'll repeat it here:

Years ago, I met an elderly woman who bought the Weekly World News and other tabloids and actually believed in what she read there. When I questioned her, she angrily asserted that it had to all be true, because there was a law against publishing anything that wasn't. Once I was out of her hearing, I snickered derisively, but then it occurred to me that there were many other people like her.

Not long after that, I picked up a friend's copy of the WWN, and found a story about a medical study that "proved" condoms cause a particularly deadly and incurable form of cancer.

This was, I think, 1988--the peak of the AIDS crisis, and right around the first time I lost a friend to the disease. I found myself thinking of that poor stupid old woman, and wondered how many stupid people like her were going to die from reading that story.

After that, I just never found them funny anymore. Good riddance to the evil motherfuckers.

#36 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 03:54 PM:

Kevin @ 33: Is there, in fact, a complete collection of the Weekly World News anywhere?

It's one of those things that seems so likely to have been a case of "who'd pay actual money for archival-grade storage for store stacks upon stacks of trash?", and yet in hindsight when it's too late, maybe it wasn't really trash after all.

#37 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 03:57 PM:

Kevin 33: Will it include full-color covers

Only if it's produced by Turner Broadcasting.

#38 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2007, 10:57 PM:
Assuming that the average Chinese weighs 110 lbs., he calculates, the energy released by this great leap downward would be equivalent to an earthquake of magnitude 4.5 on the Richter scale, causing extensive damage in China. But if the Chinese were organized to jump roughly every 54 minutes—just when the peak of a barely perceptible natural ripple that continually sweeps around the earth's surface passes through China—they might set up a world-girdling resonant ground wave that would cause even greater damage in distant lands.

"Tonight, on Mythbusters..."

Speaking of TV, this thread reminds me that I still kind of miss The Chronicle.

#39 ::: Michael Straight ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 01:17 AM:

I get the impression that for a lot of WWN fans, the pleasure was about 34% laughing at the funny stories and 66% laughing at the alleged hordes of people who OMG REALLY BELIEVE THESE ARTICLES ARE TRUE!

Everyone likes to believe there are hordes of people dumber than they are.

#40 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 01:53 AM:

Everyone likes to believe there are hordes of people dumber than they are.

i don't like to believe that. probably why i never liked "reality television."

#41 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 01:56 AM:

Man... I haven't bought a WWN in a while, but I used to get them if I stopped off for groceries on the way home, especially if I was just grabbing something to eat right then and wanted something to read. I classified it as the least expensive humor magazine I could buy on a whim...

I started wondering a while back if they were in trouble when I saw stories repeat within months, but I didn't expect them to go under. Now I'll have to go back to Mad magazine and see if they've improved again, durnit.

#42 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:35 AM:

Xopher @ 37

Only if it's produced by Turner Broadcasting.

There is justice! Do you realize just how embarrased Ted Turner would be? Serves him right for coloring over the lines.

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:37 AM:

Michael Straight @ 39

Everyone likes to believe there are hordes of people dumber than they are

They're right. Recursively.

#44 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 03:11 AM:

Michael Straight: I'm with miriam on this (although I do like some reality television, I have to admit). On the "hordes of dumb people" issue, I don't want it to be true, I don't believe it to be true, and I kind of despise people who think it's true. And I liked WWN for the articles.

#45 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 08:35 AM:

A CD-ROM set of all the Weekly World News issues ever published would sell some copies, I betcha.

(Who's the guy who was buying up collections of old newspapers and who hates microfilm? Recently published one or two books about preserving newspapers. Google has failed me.)

#46 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 09:33 AM:

Bill Higgins # 45: It wouldn't be Nicholson Baker, would it? He published (IIRC) 'Double Fold', which was about libraries dumping hardcopy for microfilm. I believe he bought a warehouse-load of old Hearst newspapers from the LoC, or maybe the BL, and was (is?) trying to set up some kind of foundation to take care of them.

#47 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 12:00 PM:

Jakob at #46: Yes, Nicholson Baker was the guy I was thinking of.

If I were a reporter writing about the demise of WWN, I would try to get a quote from him.

In addition to Double Fold, he also published The World on Sunday : Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer's Newspaper (1898 - 1911). Both books sound interesting, but I haven't read them.

#48 ::: simbelmyne ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 12:00 PM:

hamletta @23

The WWN is going web based only. At least, according to my friend that maintains the website.

#49 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 11:58 PM:

My mother received a subscription to the Weekly World News for her 40th birthday as a joke. Hilarious reading, and most entertaining.

I actually found several true stories in various issues because my hometown area had a rash of minor weirdnesses around then, like the janitors who caught a gopher, tried to kill it by spraying chewing-gum remover on it in an enclosed room, and then blew up the room because somebody tried to light a cigarette. (The gopher survived.) That's one of those stories that gets referred to as an urban legend because it sounds too strange to be true. Likewise crazy was the lady who got a noise citation for snoring too loud, but then, Davis has always been a little weird.

At any rate, I wrote a story for my high-school newspaper on how to spot the true stories in the Weekly World News. IIRC, one of the primary indicators was the lack of multiple exclamation points in the title. Another was the short length— obviously, the editors expended much more time on fiction than truth. And why not? They were obviously having fun.

Incidentally, the last page of the article goes into the reasons why WWN seems to be folding, the primary one being that the new publisher decided to fire all the old hands and bring in comedy writers. The long-termers understood that WWN's primary value lay in reporting nonsense with a straight face, while it seems that the newbies went straight for the laugh, corroding the image. The funniest people are often the ones who are trying the hardest to play it straight. (SNL should think on that as well.)

#50 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:05 AM:


The Weekly World News was great for prognostication. I'd buy one occasionally when I found one, and it would almost always have an article that pointed out something in my own life... Once I brought "Psychic Car Mechanic Senses Auto Problems" in to show my gaming group, where I was playing a psychometer who fixed cars for a living. "No seriously, you just happened to buy this one, that had this article in it?" S'truth.

I mean, as I'm not a MIB, the WWN never told me anything particularly key, but you can't malign that kind of solid grasp of the present.

#51 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 08:45 AM:

B. Durbin @49: The funniest people are often the ones who are trying the hardest to play it straight.

Bob Newhart comes to mind.

#52 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 04:45 PM:

I should also note that for quite a while back there in the '90s, WWN used to bring in some of the great Usenet "personalities" for commentary or as a basis for whole articles. For instance, they would periodically consult Alexander Abian ("prominent scientist") for an article about how the moon must be destroyed ("Scientists Say!") because it causes plagues and deviations on Earth or how Venus's orbit must be changed to turn it into a paradise. I wonder if they ever got any articles out of Ludwig Plutonium?

#53 ::: Summer Storms sees two spammish posts ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 11:39 AM:

...and they're even weirder than the original topic often was.

#54 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 12:58 PM:


I dunno. Maybe that Vermont drug rehab place is where the Bat Boy is hiding out...

#55 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 04:04 PM:

I saw some spam posting like this recently on another forum -- a sort-of-almost-fits-the-topic post which makes little grammatical sense, followed by a link which might very marginally have something to do with the topic. I didn't follow the link deleted above -- was it to a commercial site?

#56 ::: Stefan Jones suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2014, 12:02 AM:

#56 is spam. "Can I subscribe to your newsletter?"

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