8:12 am Jul. 28, 20102
Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?
The New York Post: Tomorrow's the big day for Charlie … WRANGLE! The fact that the dean of the New York congressional delegation may have to plead to wrongdoing or face censure and the publication of a detailed investigation report from his colleagues as early as tomorrow is surely big news. But beyond the peg, the only stories to write are process stories, and to make the wood work today, the Post reaches for one. "CHARLIE WRANGLE," reads the hed; then: "Pol defiant as desperate Dems demand he deal."
The Post is asserting something that is probably true, and it's what pundits have been saying on the air, in some cases probably with background information to back themselves up: that speaker Nancy Pelosi and her folks really, really want Rangel to plead to his misdeeds. And, really, the Post comes very close to reaching paydirt: "I think it's best that he settle," Representative George Miller, a Pelosi acolyte, tells the paper. The paper continues the quote: "Because I just said so, that's why. That's my feeling." (The reporter undoubtedly asked "why" in between, unless Miller is a crazy person.) The Post characterizes their quote as "the most direct message from any member of Pelosi's inner circle," and then gets into the B-copy: Rangel's lawyers and the Ethics Committee lawyers in closed-door meetings. The story promised inside is a two-pager, and the type is huge. This is a traditional, tabloid-newsy front, perhaps even "sober" and "mainstream." Oh, wait a minute: MEET THE SEXY NEW RUSSIAN SPY, reads some bold white type with dropshadow over a blue snipe across the bottom. Why yes, let's meet her!
The inside hed puts scare quotes around 'spy,' because, well, nobody is saying she is a spy! Perhaps the inside hed is quoting the wood? "I am not a spy—that is just funny," the Texas "hottie" Anna Fermanova told the Post. But not "funny ha-ha" apparently: the quote continues, "I am freaking out right now." She may well freak out! Back in February an informant told agents she was looking for weapons peripherals. Her husband lives in Moscow, and on her way there through Kennedy Airport agents stopped her and found a $7,000 Raptor 4X night-vision weapons sight and two other $4,000 devices, according to court documents. From here, the Post's version of events becomes a little hazy. "The agents allowed her to travel to Moscow, but arrested her upon her return July 15." Huh? So, they let her take the stuff to Moscow, then arrested her for it? "Fermanova's husband planned to resell the scopes to big-game hunters," is the explanation the Post attributes to Fermanova's lawyer. She's under house arrest (where?) and charged with … well, attempting to export the devices. (Did she not succeed?) Anyway, all of this may be unimportant, because it gives the Post the opportunity to lead the story with: "Move over, Anna Chapman, there's another 'Victoria's Secret' agent sending love to Mother Russia—and her name's Anna, too." Because of Anna Chapman, you see.
Daily News: OK, now we get it! The lefthand side of the News wood today is a tall portrait of this Fermanova in a skimpy bikini, smiling at the camera, obtained from facebook. But very very hi-res, mysteriously! A red snipe across her shins reads "THE SEXIEST SMUGGLER," and, "Charged in Russian plot." In the News version of the story, several things are clarified. For one, they confiscated the scopes at Kennedy and let her go to Moscow to see her husband anyway. For another, Fermanova's lawyer's defense is that she had obtained the night-vision sights for her husband and his hunting buddies, who presumably like to hunt big game at night using military-grade night-vision equipment. (Honestly, I find this credible, I really do.) Also, she is "a nice Jewish girl." This is all starting to look like not spying at all. But nor does it sound like a "Russian plot." She is charged with "knowingly and intentionally" attempting to export "defense articles on the United States Munitions list," a charge that can carry a 10-year sentence. And, wait a minute: "She admitted removing identifying marks from the scopes and blacking out serial numbers with a marker "so they would be less noticeable," court records show." Right, because those serial numbers and identifying marks are really ugly on your munitions peripherals when you are having a stylish night out blasting the hell out of Russian fauna. It's all fishy. But is it important?
It's important enough to take up much of the page, but the right side is dominated with big, heavy type: "$7 M. SEAN BELL DEAL" reads the layer-cake hed; "Settle 50-bullet shooting case." The payout is one of the biggest in police history, after Abner Louima and a man who was jailed for 19 years after being framed in a murder case by an NYPD officer. Predictably, the union rep calls the settlement a travesty.
Observations: Before we get to today's competition, something to point out about Monday's edition: The Post prints a correction to its Monday story of Johnny Concepcion, the lucky "confessed" murderer who "got a liver transplant" ahead of some 2,000 on a waiting list after swallowing rat poison in a guilt-ridden suicide bid. Except, he did not receive a liver transplant: "The hospital yesterday issued a statement that no such operation took place. The Post relied on two NYPD sources for its report, and it is now evident they were misinformed. We apologize to our readers for the error." The Post justifiably points out that it sought an official response from the hospital, but was rebuffed on the grounds of patient privacy regulations. "Curiously, the hospital now sees itself free to publicly discuss Concepcion's case," the Post says. That is curious! We've got a call in to the public affairs department, because I'd like to see this statement. Perhaps they got permission from Concepcion?
OK, on to today. I wonder what's behind the decision not to put the Sean Bell settlement on the front page of the Post: It has all the earmarks for Post wood. I assume, since this was a gang presser, that they had the story as early as the News; though the article wasn't posted until 4:52 online it's not really possible to draw any conclusions from that, as the piece may have been laid out in the paper already and just not rubber-stamped for the Web yet, right? My old boss used to talk about "plausibility" and "intentionality." In other words, if it looks like you meant to do it, you're OK.
The Post Rangel wood looks to me like a choice, and I don't think it's a bad one. The quote from the Pelosi lieutenant was all theirs, whereas the Bell story belonged to anyone with a subscription to the police department's press release list. Granted, the News did more on the story than that, but why be one in a crowd? The Post's bait-and-switch on the spy is annoying, though; especially since the fact that tends to implicate her in illegal activity—the filing off of serial numbers—appears only in the News. And while the decision to run with Rangel might have crowded the bikini-clad picture of Newest "Spy" Anna Fermanova off the front page, I do wonder if the front-page people had it, and if not, what today's Post might have looked like if they had. So the spy story goes to the News, and the Bell vs. Rangel story goes to the Post. If we weight the judgment based on real-estate on the wood?