Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, and Kate Middleton; what else is there to say?

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Today's tabloids, April 21, 2011. ()
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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:  The story on the front page today makes me very sad.

The close-up of the 7-year-old's smiling face, in his Toy Story visor and winter coat, is overlaid with text reading "COPS CUFF KID, 7." The dek reads, "Restrain special-ed student after he jumps on table." But as sad as this kid's story is—he's ADHD, has delayed speech and emotional problems and is classified as special-ed—the problem here is that the tie isn't broken. You could read this story and sort of draw the conclusion that if the school and cops could not keep a little kid from being dangerous to himself—a meltdown came after he was upset about the color of an Easter egg he was dying, and one report from the scene says he got hold of a pair of scissors and was brandishing them—they're not very good at their jobs. But I wasn't there, and eyewitnesses aren't allowed to weigh in.

His mom's upset, of course, and it appears that her efforts to leave work in Manhattan to get to the school to pick her child up were Herculean. There are no winners here, but I do wonder if the entire front page should be given to a sad story the reader can't actually make sense of on the information we've got. One wishes the News had established better that the handcuffs were totally unnecessary, so that the simple reaction of being outraged at the school and the cops would be available. Without that, it's not a cover story.

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The New York Post: On the other hand, the handcuffs story is labeled "EXCLUSIVE" in a red bar, a claim that certainly can't be made for the two stories on the cover of the Post, however compelling they both may be. In one case it's a special precinct for the paper, and in the other its momentousness is its argument.

In the first case I'm referring to Kate Middleton's shopping trip. Presumably Middleton, who is actually about to be a Princess, has people who can "do for her" when it comes to her honeymoon wardrobe. But she does for herself pretty well already, and even for this shopping trip, she managed "a $600-plus Issa short-sleeved black wrap dress and tan court kitten heels" that make her look pretty fantastic. The emphasis was not on the fact that she was out shopping herself. It was that she purchased items from Warehouse, a not-expensive shop in the King's Road in Chelsea: three dresses and a blouse, with the biggest-ticket item being one of the dresses at $105.

Pretty much all this reporting and photography is cadged from the British press. But what other paper beside the Post , with its parent company's many tendrils in the region of Fleet Street, will lavish this kind of attention on the granular details of England's princess-to-be? And the headline, "Kate-mart!" makes a distinctly American kind of joke. (Target would probably have been a closer analogy, but that would set up a very wrong pun.)

The Middleton story gets an L-shaped box that wraps around the Now Let's Get Serious box in the lower-righthand corner.

"FATAL SHOTS" reads the heavy black hed. "B'klyn photogs killed in Libya war." Pictures of Restrepo director and celebrated war photographer Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, a Getty photographer who's racked up every award you can pretty much for conflict photography, were killed in a mortar attack by Khadafy-loyalist forces on Tripoli Street, a main drag in Misrata, where shelling had been going on for hours. Hetherington's last tweet before he died read, "In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by [Khadafy] forces. No sign of NATO."

Observations: It's tempting to view the Post and News today through the traditional lens of this tabloid war: the Post is literally reporting on royalty and on the media elites, and the News is reporting on the lives of "regular people." The problem is that sometimes famous and powerful people are up to something very important, like dying in the service of reporting an international conflict. And in this case, the story even happens to be local. At a certain point, slant, point-of-view, editorial outlook and all that have to take a back seat to plain importance.

What's more, the argument for the News story would be to get out an important story about how police and schools mistreat a special-needs student. I have no doubt in my mind at all that such things happen routinely. But I can't tell from the reporting here whether this is just a sad episode in the life of this child that nevertheless really couldn't have been avoided, or a massive abuse of a child whose special needs are regarded as unimportant to officialdom, and whose family is punished for relying on the public schools for his education. The latter is indeed a cover story, but that's not what we've got today.

Winner: The New York Post.