D.S.K. accuser Nafissatou Diallo reveals herself and makes the ‘Post’ nervous

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Today's tabloids, July 25, 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: Nafissatou Diallo, the 32-year-old Guinean Sofitel housekeeper whom French and other international newspapers and websites have named as Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser, has come forward in the U.S. in a cover-story interview with Newsweek and an interview on this morning's "Good Morning America" with Robin Roberts.

For The New York Post, the development provides another opportunity for the torn-look strip at the top of the story space in red, with knockout-white type that reads "The DSK Scandal."

A picture of Diallo runs along the left-hand margin of the page, with a red starburst that reads "PHOTO EXCLUSIVE," though watching the more recent video teasers for the "G.M.A." interview, it would seem that pictures of the woman are not the thing that's in short supply—and that the Post picture is a few years old. At any rate, the paper, which has touted exclusives on the storyline based on anonymous sources familiar with the investigation (which could mean either police, the D.A.'s office or Dominique Strauss-Kahn's defense team, really) once again proves its willingness to forget momentarily its own aggressive reporting when it doesn't suit today's mood.

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And today, it certainly doesn't: The Post has reported that Diallo was a prostitute and that she was working in a ring of hotel maids that provided "services" to hotel guests, and the Post also went rather enthusiastically with stories based on deposits made to several bank accounts in her name, her relationship with a fellow Guinean now facing deportation from an Arizona prison on marijuana charges, and a recorded conversation with him in which she seemed to be saying she was pursuing the charges because D.S.K. was very wealthy and there was money in it.

In her interviews, many of the facts in this pattern are partly or completely reversed, and the Post doesn't make particular mention of the fact that it was the paper that drove the storyline hard in the opposite direction.

Diallo's friend, the marijuana dealer, was someone she "trusted" but no longer does, who was laundering money through accounts in her name. And she's done bad things—lying on tax and immigration forms to increase the favorability of their outcomes for her—but she was not and has never been a prostitute. (Her legal team has filed a civil suit against the Post.)

If the Post did anything to verify its own previous reporting against Diallo's new claims, we don't see it in today's editions.

"MAID TELLS ALL" reads the main hed, in knockout white on a black field, with all the tabloid triumph of a really great development in a big story. "Breaks silence: 'I was so scared."

There's a picture of D.S.K.—we are now permanently, it seems, back to the growly, "embattled" pictures taken during D.S.K.'s arraignment, when to casual observers the case against him seemed to be locked up pretty tight, and not the jubilant D.S.K. we saw on the Post front page when its reports carried information from the investigation that seemed to show it was on the rocks.

Daily News: "DSK MAID SPEAKS" reads the giant knockout-white text on a black field on the cover of the News. On the left, a silhouette of Diallo taken from her walk-and-talk Robin Roberts interview; more current, obviously, it shows a plainer, more motherly looking woman, in a pageboy haircut and wearing black dress pants and a white jersey blouse under a half-sleeve pale-peach-colored cardigan. (This matters.)

The dek reads simply "'I want him to go to jail,'" beneath a picture of D.S.K. (one of these sad-angry ones). Inside: "Diallo said she's speaking out publicly to repair her reputation after the New York Post branded her 'a prostitute' and prosecutors claimed her case was weakened by lies she told about her background."

In fact, her coming out now does seem a direct consequence of the reporting that led to D.S.K.'s release from house arrest. The News is careful here: they're not drawing a bright line underneath it just yet, since as long as what the Post reported is possibly true, it remains something the News might have liked to find that out themselves. It's not provably false enough yet for the News to gloat at the Post just yet, although you can expect that element of the storyline to grow legs in the pages of the News in coming days.

Observations: Why did the Post use such an old photo of Diallo? She's younger, and arguably prettier by most conventional standards. Her hair is "done," glossy and shaped in a short, Josephine-Bakeresque style, and she's dripping with gold jewelry, from her ears and across her neck. Her shoulders are bare; it's hard to tell but it looks like some denim-jersey halter she's wearing.

Was the picture chosen entirely because it's exclusive, or because it fights the narrative storyline being cast on Diallo in Newsweek and on "G.M.A."? In the latter two publications, Diallo appears to be a hardworking mom, obsessed with her job at Sofitel and terrified of losing it: A sympathetic figure who is relatable in the heartland despite her sometimes halting and foreign-sounding English. The woman on the front of the News is also this woman, from central casting.

The woman on the cover of the Post looks pleasant and kind, but could also come from central booking, a friend of marijuana dealers, a false asylum-seeker, a tax cheat and a sometime prostitute. This picture doesn't embody that character, but it is more consistent with that character than the Diallo we saw in Newsweek and on ABC.

So who wins? "DSK MAID SPEAKS" or "The DSK Scandal: MAID TELLS ALL"? The dramatic torn-paper look and the "exclusive" photo or the screenshot from ABC and the straightforward type treatment? It's close, and not a day for cleverness particularly. This is an art-director competition today. And so regardless of everything I've said above, the cover that will move more papers isn't the one with the best story. (How often is it?)

Winner: The New York Post.