‘The New York Post’ and the victimization of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim

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Today's tabloids, May 18, 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?

The New York Post: French society philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy's embarrassing and unfactual essay for The Daily Beast yesterday was atrocious, sure. (Among other things, he allows for the possibility that his friend, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, can be alibied by his daughter with whom he ate lunch on Saturday, despite the fact that Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have already said the lunch was after the time of the International Monetary Fund chief's alleged sexual assault on a maid at his midtown hotel. The piece is introduced with the line, "No one knows if the IMF director is guilty of sexual assault," when in fact it is not a philosophically unknowable fact; it's one the truth or falsehood of which is known to both the alleged victim and the alleged attacker.)

It seems mostly, at bottom, to be a diatribe against tabloid newspapers: "I resent the New York tabloid press, a disgrace to the profession, that, without the least precaution and before having effected the least verification, has depicted Dominique Strauss-Kahn as a sicko, a pervert, borderlining on serial killer, a psychiatrist’s dream."

One can understand why someone who fancies himself a modern-day de Tocqueville on America should have a complex about parading the accused around; after all, this is a nation whose democracy was born not on the battlefield but at the guillotine. Just the same, I find myself as outraged today by the Post's treatment of the accuser as that blowhard—who attempted to take credit for French president Nicholas Sarkozy's decision to take the lead in the attack on Libya even as he portrays himself, pathetically and at a socially convenient moment, as a friend to French socialism—was outraged by the tabloids' treatment of the accused.

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The Post touts its cooperation with authorities in not releasing the name of the accuser, and goes to some lengths in its main article on the D.S.K. case today to detail efforts being made by the New York Police Department to "protect" her from offers from influential friends of D.S.K. to drop the case in exchange for favors. But it reveals that she was living in an apartment organized for her by the charity Harlem United, which places people with H.I.V. and AIDS in rent-assisted housing. The sum of the importance of this fact, which does not establish that the alleged victim is H.I.V.-positive, is the suggestion that the accused sex criminal "may have more to worry about than a possible prison sentence" because, "[according] to the federal Centers for Disease Control: 'It is possible for either partner to become infected with HIV through performing or receiving oral sex.'" This, in the mind of the Post, qualifies as a "shock."

"HOTEL MAID IN HIV SHOCK" reads the headline; though only the Post, so far, is shocked. It's billed an "EXCLUSIVE" in a big red banner, before she's referred to a second time as the "IMF gal in AIDS-help apartment."

I was saying to a friend last night that I was surprised there had not yet been a serious Al Qaeda conspiracy theory floated about the victim, given the reports she is a devout Muslim, but I wasn't expecting this. Perhaps worse is yet to come: They do not yet ask the police whether rubber gloves were used by officers attending to the alleged victim. There's always tomorrow!

Predictably, however, the Post yields a half of the vertical space on its wood this morning to the former Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, who confessed to The Los Angeles Times late Sunday (30 hours before today's editions of the Post hit the newsstands) that his separation from his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, was precipitated by his revelation to her that 10 years ago he fathered a lovechild with a member of the couple's household staff. (She is not called a "maid.")

With several plot points in that story having developed while the Post presses took their daily nap, editors apparently could find no top-spin to put on the story beyond its now-stale basic fact: "Hasta la vista baby!" reads the hed, which is set not in all caps but knockout-white up-and-down text over a picture of the fractured couple. "Maria split over Arnie's secret love child," reads the dek.

Daily News: "IMF gal" doesn't even crack the front of the News today, and after all, there is little in the way of new developments unless you have a "SHOCK" about the alleged victim's health status to unveil.

More disappointing is a certain comma that appears on the News front today. Here's the question: Is the subject of the headline the Governor, his wife, the lovechild or the creature's mother? The famous line "HASTA LA VISTA, BABY" is a favorite movie quote from Schwarzenegger's Terminator days, and the comma is certainly implied in the way the original is spoken: He is calling the person "baby" whom he is saying goodbye to because he's about to kill him. But the pun here is that there is a baby that caused Maria Shriver to leave him: an "hasta-la-vista baby." With the comma, it becomes unclear who's talking to whom, and basically the pun is ruined. (Maybe we're meant to picture Shriver throwing Schwarzenegger's famous line back in his face? But then "baby" is no longer a pun on the lovechild.)

Never mind that the woman who gave birth to the child is now identified, that Maria Shriver has issued a statement and that her children with Schwarzenegger have been taking to social media to talk about the news. The News is no worse than the Post for failing to recognize that the blunt headline with the basic data point of the story, now more than a day old, is outdated.

The Yankees comeback moment is also chronicled in a bar across the top of the page, above the flag: "Yanks snap skid behind A-Rod's 2 HRs," it reads.

Observations: I could certainly be wrong. But I think even the Post's regular readers will be horrified by their treatment of the D.S.K. case today. It's my job to dig in, but if I were at the newsstand holding 50 cents in my hand, I would gladly use it to exercise my option not to. Find another angle on the D.S.K. case, which is about to start moving very slowly, or get out while the going is good, I say.

Winner: Daily News.