Today, Nafissatou Diallo is a ‘fraud’ and Mike Bloomberg is the Judge Dredd of traffic

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Today's tabloids, August 23, 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: One of the reasons the case of once-alleged sex-criminal Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, is so hard to get one's head around are all the things we don't know whether we know.

Do we know the entire story of her relationship with the district attorney's office? We know the D.A.'s side of it, now. According to unusually long paperwork filed by Cy Vance's office yesterday to formally drop charges against Strauss-Kahn, from the very beginning the D.A. found out Diallo in a series of lies "great and small," some relating to her personal background (the greater ones) and some relating to the facts surrounding her sexual encounter with the former head of the International Monetary Fund at a Sofitel hotel in Midtown. And we know some of Diallo's side of that story: She admits these lies, but says the prosecutor has had an antipathy toward trying her case from the beginning and that some of these lies were brocading on the truth to make the prosecutors listen.

All of this is believable, to me; the stories don't conflict. What I can't understand is why lawyers representing Dominique Strauss-Kahn were given any information about Diallo's developing testimony during the case, much less why the press was. The reality is that many witnesses, whether they are complaining witnesses or not, have things to hide and things to prove in their initial interviews with prosecutors. There will be lies, and half-truths, and slight misrepresentations, all of which have to be ironed out in a grueling process, especially if that witness is going to be put on the stand.

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How frequently does the other side have access to all the vagaries of that process, and get to threaten to use the things that happen in the conversation between the D.A.'s office and the complaining witness, in a rape case no less, to dampen the credibility of the D.A.'s case?

Nafissatou Diallo has a credibility problem with the district attorney. She needn't have had a credibility problem with the jury.

Finally, it comes down to one thing: Does the district attorney's office actually believe a crime was committed at the Sofitel? The answer to that question, it seems to me, is no. And that's why they're dropping the charges. So let's leave this business about whether she'd survive on the stand out of the picture.

In that sense, the Post seems to have it right today.

"FRAUD!" reads the big black text across the top of the page. There is a silhouetted photo of Diallo, her eyes closed as if in contemplation or mid-cry. Two bullet-points follow. "DA: Maid's lies sank rape case" and "Teary-tantrum act exposed."

From reading the story I'm not sure quite what the second bullet point is all about. But what's really interesting is that the paper uses the word FRAUD. Who is a fraud? Obviously Nafissatou Diallo. This cover will outrage some people—but the paper is only saying what the D.A.'s office wants you to understand about its own position, without having to say it themselves.

Daily News: Yesterday the News pointed out that the city was raking it in on tickets since a program to place cameras at red lights was expanded. (I always have thought it strange that misbehavior should be aligned with the city's fiscal health: Doesn't that mean we depend on people to act in the ways we are trying to disincentivize them to act in order to pay to run the city? Cf: smoking tickets in parks.)

Today, the News doctors a photo of a smiling Bloomberg so that one of his eyes is a telephoto lens, making him look a little like some kind of steampunk villain from The Crow. "MIKE TO DRIVERS: SMILE!" reads the big black text, with the emphasis on "SMILE!" "He wants a red-light camera on every corner—and speed cams, too!"

When we get past a bit of make-work to sex up the page—a tall box along the left margin with a leggy photo of Jennifer Lopez that reads "Whoa, J-Lo!" in red text—there's still room left for the paper to deal with the Diallo case. A red box along the bottom reads in knockout-white: "CY YA LATER: Vance drops DSK charges." A two-page spread is advertised. Throughout the inside of the paper, in editorials and in two opinion columns, the paper sticks up for Vance's office, which makes this sale interesting.

Whether or not you think Vance's office conducted itself appropriately through all this, the emphasis on the prosecutor instead of the complaining witness or the accused seems to jaundice the reader against the prosecutor.

Observations: Today is about commitment, I think. Sure, you can make a mistake and give the whole page to a story that doesn't warrant it; but more often than not, committing to a story on the front will deliver a page with more impact. The fact that the Post seems to take a position on the matter that isn't warranted by the coverage is a side note; an important one for those of us who are watching the paper's politics, to be sure, but in terms of what moves papers, it's still a side note. And I remind the News of something I've said before here: Sometimes something that looks creepy just shouldn't be on the front page. This Bloomberg-camera cyborg (Bloomborg?) is one of those things.

Winner: The New York Post.