O’Bama does J.F.K. while ‘Post’ does D.S.K.

Today's tablois, May 24, 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: In June 1963 when John F. Kennedy visited Ireland, it was huge. He reportedly told an aide his days there were the three "happiest days" of his life, and Ireland, receiving its first significant state visit after 41 years of independence from Great Britain, felt as though it were finally a legitimate state in the eyes of the world. Of course, Kennedy's advisers were dead set against the trip, and pointed out to him that he already had all the Irish-American votes he could want, if that had been his motive for going.

At any rate, the News has a sizable Irish-American constituency in the boroughs of New York who will be pretty thrilled to see this picture of Barack Obama hoisting a pint of Guinness in a pub in the small town of Moneygall (can that really be the name of the village?), home of an ancestor on his mother's side. "O'BAMA" is the main hed, in a hard-to-read but thematic bright green with white outline; "It's Erin Go Barack as Irish go wild for Prez."

It's pretty much a gimme, the kind of thing you might shrink down a bit if there were any significant news; so apparently the blue strip at the bottom, which reads "LE PERV DNA ON MAID'S CLOTHES," is a signal of the receding importance of the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn to the News.

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The New York Post: The News is right: the DNA evidence match between the sample submitted by the former chief of the International Monetary Fund and samples taken from the uniform of the maid who accused him of sexual assault is the news from yesterday on the D.S.K. case. But then, early indications from Strauss-Kahn's lawyers are that they plan to argue not that no sexual contact occurred, but that it was consensual. So how important this evidence may be in the court of public opinion, at any rate, is probably debatable. There was likely no doubt of a match from the moment D.S.K. agreed to the test.

What the Post offers today is a bit of enterprise. Citing an unnamed source close to D.S.K., the paper reports that the maid's family in West Africa were contacted by associates of the defendant and offered money in exchange for persuading the maid not to press her cause against D.S.K. The maid is presently being sequestered by the district attorney's office, which is even monitoring her phone calls, according to the Post. But Guinea is pretty far afield. It's all a little bit thin: There's a picture of a group of men and boys, credited to AFP/Getty Images, looking very sternly at a cameraman; they're called the accuser's "extended family" in some lede text that jumps off the front page. But who are they actually?

Do they have any real influence over the accuser? How were they located? Who are these "pals" of D.S.K. who contacted them, and are they acting on instructions? In fact, are these actually the same "relatives" contacted by the pals?

A look through Getty's Agence-France Presse photos shows that one man told the agency he is an uncle of the accuser, and another her half-brother; the A.F.P. photographer's shoot includes many pictures from the accuser's birthplace in Guinea. Though American news outlets have been generally following the practice of not naming the accuser in a sexual assault case, French and other international media have not; the pictures from A.F.P. name the town in Guinea and some of the relatives of the accuser, and some of this color, and the front-page photo, were available to the Post. But the red bar reading "EXCLUSIVE" at the bottom of the teaser text on the front page relates solely to this single "pal" and her assertions that D.S.K. will shortly be off the hook.

Observations: It would be hard to disprove the Post story, since it contains so little proof; and because what it offers is, so far, ineffable. But actually that's one of the prime tests of the newsworthiness of a scoop like this. If you can't see a method of disproving it but only of advancing it—if for instance you decided to follow up by asking the Guinean photo subjects on today's front page whether they'd been approached, and then printed whatever they said, whether it contradicts the Post's anonymous D.S.K.-pal testimony—it's not a very impressive scoop.

At the same time, the story comports well with what a reader with casual interest in the D.S.K. story will have expected from him and his powerful allies. The Post story did not headline what occupies much of the space in the actual story—because it's not exclusive to the Post—in which the accuser's testimony has been revealed to include details about things D.S.K. said during the alleged attack, including asking the victim "Do you know who I am?" and the like. So that's all to say: this story is a grabber, and so is the photo.

The News, on the other hand, also has a grabber. It's easy, and it's easy to forget when you're inside the media bubble, that a story like this, which virtually writes itself and requires little effort, can still be a big crowd-pleaser. So we're really only talking about subject choice today: Obama in Ireland vs. D.S.K. dirty-dealings.

I for one am fascinated with every detail of the D.S.K. case, as well as the way it's being covered all over the world. So I can't get enough of it. I'm personally a lot less interested in all this shamrocky sentimentalism displayed on the cover of the News.

The Post and the News have, independently, made the right choices for the readers they want. What I'm left with is the question of whether the Post is selling to its target demographic better than the News is to its different one. And there, I think there's lots of room for error, but I have a pick nonetheless.

Winner: The New York Post.