D.S.K. swallows a bird, but the tabs won’t eat crow

Today's tabloids, July 1, 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: Well, it's about as big a piece of news as you can get right now in the case of former I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Investigations conducted by the district attorney's office and by Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, according to sources in several newspapers citing anonymous sources (starting with The New York Times yesterday), have revealed troubling facts about the Sofitel chamber-maid who accused the French politician of sexually assaulting her in his hotel room. "DSK CASE BOMBSHELL" reads the giant knockout-white type on a black field at the top of the page. The dek: "Maids 'lies' and 'drug links' leave DA no good witness."

The Times report hit in time for other papers to pick up the story for today's editions, but too late to make the papers that hit newsstands in France this morning. Never mind, the news is dominating television and the web over there, and basically every politician ever has weighed in and had their quotes picked up in the papers here.

I won't go through what precisely the new revelations are; open your eyes in front of any television set or computer screen and you'll get the details whether or not you want them.

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But the best thing by far about the cover of today's Post is the photo they managed of D.S.K. himself (which does not appear to me to be credited?). They've put his silhouette in the lower left-hand corner, which is the right decision because he looks like he's looking right at you; the grin on his face and his chubby, liver-spotted hands clenched and joined so that he looks a bit like Boris from Bullwinkle awaiting the detonation of a bomb.

Daily News: Whereas the whole affair is more straightforward over on the News wood. Three fitfths of the page, vertically, is given to the story, under a little ribbon of a rubric that reads "LE PERV COULD WALK." (As you may remember, "Le Perv" is the News' attempt at a running nickname, despite the availability and apparent currency of DSK everywhere else.) Do you object that the News called D.S.K. "Le Perv" and now it looks possible he could escape his stringent bail requirements, or that the district attorney could drop the case altogether?

First of all, it hasn't happened yet. Second of all, as bad and vague as "Le Perv" was as his nickname, it remains, in a way, true; this is not the first time he's gotten in trouble for having sex with someone, even if the previous event concerned what appeared to be a consensual affair.

"'CASE GONE TO HELL'" is the headline, in black, with a fairly nondescript silhouette of a troubled-looking D.S.K. set against a red block with knockout-white type that reads "Sources: Maid in sex attack not credible."

It's worth mentioning that the News also flags a story about Alicia Keys: a concert review from last night's Beacon Theatre performance. That's one way to get a pretty lady on the cover. And there's also a Subway Series curtain-raiser advertised in a skybox at the top that is the width of the page.

Observations: If D.S.K. looks like the cat who swallowed the bird, readers (especially ones with sympathy for what seems to have emerged as the "French point of view" on the case in the last six weeks) will be unhappy to see how little crow the tabloids are eating this morning. But as I say, it would be premature. And what's more, it reflects a misunderstanding of the tabloid aesthetic to consider it possible that they would.

The tabloid by its nature must follow every current lead as though it is the most amazing and shocking possible piece of news; having zigged too far in one direction, when revelations redirect the course of the story, only allows them to zag yet more dramatically the other way.

Still, they're being cautious. You'll notice that the tabloids as of today are taking care not to imply that the accuser in the D.S.K. case was not sexually assaulted, but only that her testimony is the only possible way of prosecuting a case in which the accused claims the sex was consensual, and that facts about the accuser will make that testimony difficult for the prosecution. In fact, it will make the testimony impossible: Among the problems the police found was a recorded interview between the accuser and a man in jail on drug charges in which the two discussed how she could profit from the coming trial. There's more, but you already know most of it.

When it comes down to it, there is a ton of information to digest about this case today. All you want to do is get into it and start reading. So the sale that works is the one that looks the juiciest. And the D.S.K.-happy-as-a-cat picture wins.

Winner: The New York Post.