8:03 am Jul. 6, 20111
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: Forgive me if my interest in the Casey Anthony trial is narrow, but I believe the interest of most New Yorkers in the case has been narrow, too, these past couple of months at trial and for the year leading up to yesterday's apparently stunning verdict. And the tabloids surely agree: Unless I'm mistaken, today is the first time we see the case on the front page of either paper since I've been doing this column.
Of course, the News has other work to do: Two slightly shrunken skyboxes atop the flag advertise special offerings like a confusing-sounding lottery thing and yet another full-page "GO YANKS" poster, with a different Yankee on it.
But the main story space is entirely devoted to the Anthony case, with a portrait of the young victim and the knockout-white headline "NO JUSTICE." "Jury shocker:" reads a dek in the upper right. "Mom skates in death of little Caylee." It's a two-page spread.
By my calculations, since the body of Caylee Anthony was discovered in late December 2008, the News has published 25 short articles about the case, mostly rewrites of reports carried on cable television, where the story has had much more national currency, and the occasional opinion column about "mothers who kill" and suchlike. To put that in perspective: The News has published well over 800 editions since that day.
The paper concludes authoritatively that there is "NO JUSTICE," which is the pose they have to strike, but a pose nonetheless, I'm guessing. You expect a crackpot like Nancy Grace to know about every hair and fiber in the case; I'd be surprised if the News' top editors know much more than I do after a half-hour of Googling it yesterday afternoon.
The two-page spread actually includes a column by Joanna Molloy, normally reliably sane on stories like this, but who has written something incoherent today. I'm not really sure what it says.
The New York Post: Whatever her other failings, I don't have any doubt about Andrea Peyser's opinions on this matter. Simply, the jurors who acquitted Casey Anthony should be unable to live with themselves. She phones in the observation that Casey Anthony is the "new O.J." when of course there are hardly any similarities whatsoever, other than that lots of people think they did something and then they got off. Peyser strains to find one similarity in the "race card" defense played in the O.J. case, which bullied jurors into … it's not clear what. See, that's just like the defense's position that Casey Anthony panicked after her daughter's accidental death: Now anyone on the jury who's a parent will acquit in case they get dragged in front of a Florida jury after their kid falls off a jungly gym. Something like that.
Peyser's teased directly on the front page along with the main news stories. Shall we take a look?
First, there's the picture of Casey Anthony, in a blouse that looks like the top part of a dress worn by one of the compound sister-wives on Big Love. She's sort of smiling, after the verdict is read, and the Post points the fact out to us in the caption, which reads: "Casey Anthony looks like the cat that swallowed the canary yesterday after her shocking acquittal in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee." "NOT GUILTY AS SIN" reads the headline, which … I'm not totally sure what that means. "Guilty as sin" sorta means super-guilty, right? So does "not guilty as sin" mean the paper is saying she is super-unguilty? I don't know—it seems like a mess to me.
Two bullet points: "Juror: Why Casey was acquitted" refers to a story that contains an interview with the 14th alternate juror; it's probably a credit to the Post that this guy had no vote in the actual verdict, because the Post doesn't pay for stories, and the 12 real jurors are all expected to get tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for interviews on television and in print tabloid outlets. The second bullet point: "Peyser: O.J. now lives in Orlando." Wow: the column was unimpressive enough to begin with; were the page-one copywriters trying to damn it with faint description?
To be fair to the News I should point out that the paucity of coverage of the case in the Post seems to me anecdotally to be even more severe than at the News, but the paper's sucky online archives make it hard to enumerate precisely.
Observations: I don't exactly blame the tabloids for being late to the Casey Anthony ratings party. After all, I suspect many of my friends on Twitter who posted obsessively about the case of having briefed themselves in the last couple of days on the thing. So I found the shock at the verdict to be a little hard to take. I was not shocked at all. Why? Because I had formed no opinion about the likelihood of her guilt, not having really followed the case.
If Andrea Peyser has been nursing a secret obsession, sitting with a vat of popcorn in front of Nancy Grace's show and gobbling up all the gorey details of the Anthony family's dysfunction and developing a flame of indignance on behalf of the toddler, she has not exactly been inspired to pick up her furious, acid-tipped pen until today.
Well, at least the Post doesn't seem to be rendering a counterfactual verdict of its own in the case; if I understood the Post headline better, maybe I'd know whether it's as irresponsible as the News'? But let's get to another matter: Why the News has chosen a picture of the victim rather than the accused on its cover. It strikes me as a maudlin thing, and manipulative and a little gross. And I don't think that's an ivory-tower assessment: I think most readers will feel that way, too.
Hey, by the way: Do you think the Post reads this column? It was on Friday that we praised the paper for producing a picture of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in which he looked like a cat that had just swallowed a bird; that's how the paper itself describes the picture of Casey Anthony on its cover today. In fact, the picture doesn't fit the bill nearly as well as Friday's did.
Winner: The New York Post.