Mob tapes and Keith Richards' very pretty, slightly naughty daughter are hard to resist

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Today's tabloids, April 22, 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:  Did you know that the front page of the Daily News is actually metal, covered in a layer of white paint?

That's the tromp l'oeil effect of today's cover, riddled with "bullet-holes" showing paint-scraping around the edges, as if they were punched through the body of a car. It's a trick the News likes to use whenever they talk about a mob hit, though in this case, we're talking about a body that's never been found, so the cause of death is kind of an unknown.

The efficient cause, however, is apparently an order from the dead mobster's father. In the ongoing trial of acting Bonanno crime boss Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Bascione, featuring taped conversations between him and ex-Bonanno boss Joseph Massino ("the highest ranking Mafia rat ever to testify in a New York courtroom"), Bascione told Massino that Dominick "Quiet Dom" Cirillo, a Genovese former acting boss, had his son, Nicholas Cirillo, killed "after an altercation in the Bronx with Basciano's son, Vincent Jr., and Bonanno soldier Dominick Cicale."

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What's on the tape is itself, to nonexpert ears, not too compelling: Assaulting a made man gets the death penalty in La Cosa Nostra, so many in organized crime would have believed Vinny Gorgeous had a better motive, to defend his son, than Nicholas Cirillo's own father had to do him in.

But it's the mafia code around all this that makes the tape compelling in court: Basciano would also face death for lying to a superior, current or former, like Massino, about a hit. Basciano said the Genoveses apologized to him. What's more, there's other whispering in Mafiaworld that Nicholas Cirillo was a problem in general, behaving in such a way as to compromise the security of the family and possibly to incite an interfamily war. He vanished on Mother's Day in 2004; his body has never been found.

I've accused the News before of trumping up stuff from these tapes for the front page. This is a good read, though, and it's sold pretty neatly, aside from those over-the-top bulletholes: "BOSS HIT OWN SON" reads the main hed in knockout white arranged around a silho of Quiet Dom Cirillo. "Mob chief makes stunning accusation."

Of less moment is the news that Theodora Richards, model daughter of Keith Richards, has gotten off with just two days of community service for the episode in which she used washable paint to draw a tasteful "T (heart) A" on some stone cladding of a downtown convent. The real problem was that she was busted for the graffiti rap with marijuana and unprescribed Vicodin in her purse. "SYMPATHY FOR THIS DEVIL" reads the text. Here's the thing: She's pretty. And this picture looks more like a magazine photo shoot than the paparazzi outdoor candid it is. Her form-fitting jersey-like button-front dress with its plunging neckline, her flowing hair, her stance, atop very high stiletto Mary Janes: It's actually pretty irresistible.

The New York Post: It isn't do or die for the Knicks tonight at Madison Square Garden. Sure, they are two down in their series against the Celtics, and Amar'e Stoudemire and Chancey Billups are injured, though not seriously enough to imagine they won't both be available for Sunday's Game 4. But in a seven-game series, we're still in prehistory.

It's a big deal, of course: The Knicks are in the playoffs! But somehow the headline on the front of the Post, under a picture of a straining Anthony, hints on its own at the lack of good copy on the series today: "Do or dire," it reads. Because death isn't really on the cards at Game 3.

Well, I don't know if I have a better way to sell "Carmelo Anthony's got tonight's game on his shoulders," but that's the news for today. It would be better to sex that up than to take a headline like "Do or die" and tamp it down with a pun so that it seems less dramatic. Of course another option was to leave this off the front altogether, and give it the full backpage alone, where you can do lots more to sell nerdier stories on sports.

But the Knicks occupy only a thin strip along the left margin of the front page today; most of the page is devoted to the story, billed "exclusive" by way of a red box with knockout type, of how the Internal Affairs Bureau of the New York Police Department got its first big break in its investigation into the vanishing of important people's tickets from the system.

Early last year, police-connected businessman Albert Thompson—who shares his deputy-commish title with celebs like Donald Trump and rubs shoulders with top brass, including Commissioner Ray Kelly—called his buddy, Sgt. Keshawn Hickman, saying he needed to get rid of a moving violation.

Hickman found out the ticket was already being heard in Bronx traffic court, and allegedly dispatched two rookies to take care of the problem.

Problem is the rookies didn't know what to do precisely when they got to the courthouse, and bumped into a Bronx sergeant there; they bluntly said they were there to make a ticket disappear, and the Bronx sergeant cried foul. Tapes documenting this episode were unearthed, and the two rookies testified behind closed doors to the I.A.B.

Exactly how this incident establishes a pattern or gives the I.A.B. what it needs to really clean house isn't quite made clear. And though it's a decisively reported story without too many details missing, there just aren't that many details. So the Post cover feels a little bit like a set-up. "INSIDE THE BIG TIX FIX!" reads the heavy black type, larger than the Post has gone in type size in quite some time, I think. There's an NYPD shield, some lede text, and the dek "How scam unraveled." Turn inside and find out: This one sergeant ordered two rookies to clean up a ticket for a deputy commissioner this one time last year.

In other words: INSIDE THE BIG TIX FIX becomes INSIDE ONE KEYSTONE-COPS EPISODE WHERE TWO ROOKIES TRY TO FIX A TICKET IN THE BRONX. But almost distracting me from all of this is the fact that the deputy commissioner in question, businessman Albert Thompson, "falsely claims he is the brother of former Comptroller Bill Thompson," according to the Post, which leaves it right there. Who-wha?

Observations: It's actually not an easy one. Both papers did pretty nicely with, to my mind, not too much to go on. The Post's sale is aggressive, but so is the News'. It's a question of whether anticlerical boroughs types will gravitate more toward a mafia story or a story of petty corruption and favormongering among uniformed officers. I say it's a tossup, but that this crowd really belongs to the News anyway. Theodora Richards and Carmelo Anthony both look like they were on the front of the wrong paper this morning; switch them around and both pages make more sense. I call it a wash, though. I think, late in the week, you're looking for a story, and the mafia wins.

Winner: Daily News.