2:28 pm Dec. 16, 20101
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?
Daily News: Do you know what's shocking? That Joel Rifkin, the East Meadow serial killer convicted in the murders of nine women (mostly prostitutes with drug addictions) between 1989 and 1993, would dare to come out and speak about the recent spate of bodies and missing persons reports hovering around Oak Beach. What makes it less shocking is that a Daily News reporter was dispatched to Dannemora to collect the quotes.
The interview lasted for 70 minutes, and if it turned up any new information on the eight women he is suspected of having murdered but whose cases are still open, there's no evidence that the News meant to perform that service. Rather, the at-large serial killer responsible for dumping the four corpses near the shoulder of the highway in that desolate stretch of barrier island along the south shore of Long Island now has the benefit of Rifkin's wisdom: Start disposing of bodies further away from each other!
Rifkin's notions are not limited to speculating on the nature of the case presently being pursued by police, as though the News were doing some kind of Clarisse routine with a Hannibal Lecter. Rather, Rifkin offers some more subjective ideas about how he chose his targets and how it felt to dismember their bodies after he'd murdered them. Insofar as the families of two prostitutes who have gone missing and are suspected dead are concerned, Rifkin has only to point out the utility of choosing prostitutes as targets: "'No family,' he explained, occasionally breaking into laughter as he discussed his bloody history. 'They can be gone six or eight months, and no one is looking.'" If you can read this stuff and feel outraged at Joel Rifkin instead of at the News then they've got your number.
In lighter, if not more substantial fare, the News trumpets that it has inside information on the disintegrating marriage of Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds. In fact it was the News' Gatecrasher column that first broke the news of their marital troubles; so, as with the Post on the Madoffs, we're stuck with this for a little while, even as the new developments become less and less significant. What happened is not shocking. Rumors of infidelity! Difficult schedules keeping them apart! It's the stuff boring movies are made of. We wish Scarlett and Ryan well.
It's been a while since basketball made the front page. Could the dead air in football and the largely complete Yankees-Cliff Lee news cycle have left today's tabloids jonesing for a fix? Just a little one, maybe: Amar'e Stoudemire failed, just, to get off what would have been a miraculous three-pointer to give the Knicks a win against the Celtics. So Boston won, 118-116, after the Knicks spent most of the game in the lead. The News goes with a thin red stripe across the bottom with knockout-white type that reads: "KNICKS DROP HEARTBREAKER TO CELTICS."
The New York Post: And so does the Post, almost! Here the stripe is blue, the type pale yellow (but bolder than the News'), and reads: "KNICKS HEARTBREAK AT THE BUZZER." I give the win on that point to the Post, but there are more decisive issues ahead.
The lead of today's paper is the story on the bottom, to go by type size. "TIME BANDITS" reads the heavy black type on white; "Quartet clocks city in $80M payroll 'scam.'" Huh! Well there's a short lead paragraph to help:
It's payback time.
Four crooked consultants hired to improve the city's troubled City-Time payroll system have been busted for allegedly swindling a staggering $80 million over the past five Ö"
So: wow. This is one of those stories where the fact of the pricetag is almost the only promising element. Otherwise we expect to be reading a less-than-detailed account of low-level white-collar thievery. And our expectations are to be met! "The scheme -- involving phony timesheets, payments to dummy shell companies and money laundering through Chinese and Latvian banks -- funded the crooks' purchases of BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, SUVs and two Long Island homes worth more than $3 million," according to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who charged the four consultants and accomplices yesterday. In fact the scam was only the tip of the iceberg of problems faced by CityTime, the payroll system implemented twelve years ago that was supposed to save money by consolidating city worker payroll operations, has in fact skyrocketed from a $63 million project to one costing over $700 million. Still: It's just hard to get to excited about a payroll bilking scheme, isn't it? This will get more interesting when it hits its mark in the Bloomberg administration (possibly Joel Bondy, executive director of the Office of Payroll Administration?). Bloomberg's investigation commissioner Rose Gill Hearn is looking into it.
But the real story here is of the "cold front" hitting WABC/Channel 7 weather woman Heidi Jones, whom we met yesterday as the confessed fabricator of a rape claim. Some stuff is going down at her place of business: Fellow employees spoke anonymously to a Post reporter about their feelings of betrayal, and it seems that a poster of Jones that was hanging in a corridor was taken downóand then "mysteriously" put back up. Again, a vague "setback" in Jones' life is credited with the motivation for the false claim, which was meant to garner sympathy from coworkers. How much more of this will have to sit through? Given how little we heard about it even when police considered it possibly valid, the non-rape seems to be getting a disproportionate amount of attention. It's not as though the Post isn't tough on the perpetrators of real rape on its covers; but I do wish that this woman weren't considered as big a story. Reporting the story is a different thing from making hay of it on the cover. You can't help but feel the Post is actually enjoying itself here. I wish they wouldn't.
Observations: Well maybe I don't approve of the Post's doggedness on the Heidi Jones story, but I certainly don't approve of this serial-killer shop-talk the News solicited from Dannemora. The creep factor here, which is meant to be entertainment, is actually slightly more disgusting than the entertaining indignation we are meant to feel among fellow WABC staffers at Jones' false rape claim. That both stories have what you have to call, in tabloid terms, "sex appeal" is a sad fact. True crime of this sort sells well. As for the clock-botchers: This is also true crime but seems riper for treatment by the Coen Brothers than Paul Verhoeven. But it goes head-to-head with the divorce of Scarlett Johansson, also an unappealing story at first blush but, in fact, just a little sad and perfectly respectfully reported. She's in the Caribbean now and seeing none of this. Good for her. I think, holding my nose, I have to give star-appeal value over the inside job at CityTime, and Joel Rifkin the edge over Heidi Jones.
Winner: Daily News.