Obama, Posada and Rooney Mara versus the photography of killer Michael Mele

Today's tabloids, Jan. 25, 2012. ()
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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: It's starting to seem as though the State of the Union is just one of those Big Events, the very bigness of which makes it narrow, small, and unimportant. Like Oscar Night or Fashion Week or the New Year's ball drop in Times Square, the sameness of the event time after time forces news outlets to keep finding new wine for the old bottle until the wine starts to taste old, too.

One thing about the State of the Union is that just about every eight years, you can put an "interesting" topspin on the address by calling it a re-election campaign launch for the incumbent president. Many of your readers will not remember that you already did that with George W. Bush in 2004, right? (Though some newspapers tried a different counterspin: Obama sounded exactly like George W. Bush during his re-election-year State of the Union!)

"BAM: GAME ON!" reads the heavy black headline. There's a little Obama headshot in the upper right, some lead-in text by Tom DeFrank, and a dek that reads: "Prez launches election run, rips GOP foes." In fact, of course, the president has been working on his re-election all along—just not on company time.

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But it was a day for canned Big Events, things that have been on the calendar all year long. Like the Oscar nominations, one of which was nabbed by Rooney Mara for her Noomi Rapace-like skills in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Mara's contending for an Oscar just as her dad is a contender in the Super Bowl. So it's "Rooney's Super role." (Why the "S" is uppercase I don't know.) There's one of those "looking back at you" pictures of her in a dress with a sheer top.

And a third story that also could have been assigned weeks ago: The retirement of Jorge Posada from professional baseball. It's a sad day, and one that for lots of writers was emblematic of the Yankees' troubled relationship with some of its star players. Tense negotiations on previous contracts pretty much foreordained that Posada would not be renewed; what's interesting, if not necessarily surprising, is that he's not signing up somewhere else. With 275 hits, he's probably not close enough to the Hall of Fame to make another season or two worthwhile; he wears the faces of comedy and tragedy in two (two!) head shots on either side of the headline "A Yankee forever."

New York Post: OK, so yesterday in Goshen, N.Y., Michael Mele plead guilty to the 2008 murder of Laura Garza, a Payless ShoeSource employee and aspiring dancer he met during a night out at the nightclub Marquee. According to his allocution yesterday, she accompanied him to his apartment in Wallkill, N.Y. and there saw evidence that Mele had a girlfriend; she asked to leave and he suffocated her.

The horrifying crime was, at the time, made more vexing by the fact that Mele was taped with her in the club, and leaving it. But her body was never found. And there was the fact that Mele was a sex offender already. But the police had not been able to work up more than a circumstantial case, even after Garza's remains had finally been found and positively identified outside Scranton, Penn.

For the Associated Press, the lede today was about how Garza's family was upset at the plea deal, which will likely see Mele serving 19-20 years of a 23-year sentence. They believed the prosecutors had enough of a case to go to trial and get life. But for the Post, it's all inside the twisted mind of a killer. This is made possible by the fact that the final blow to the prosecution was evidence collected from his car, a Jaguar, and elsewhere that showed he had a pattern of abusing women, and that it was escalating before Garza's murder. He acknowledges as much in documents that were found labeled as his "autobiography."

All of this was presented to a judge for admission into evidence, which the judge refused. (This is right, according to the law, in my opinion: Past criminal records are prejudicial, and the bar should be high for letting details of them into a trial on an unrelated account. What's more, the prosecution's argument for letting in the material was mostly that they had no case without it, which is not an argument at all, since the rules of evidence are not written just to help prosecutors make their cases.)

Anyway: The important thing here is that part of the documents were "racy" pictures of women taken in public places by Mele without their knowledge or consent, and used by him as … well, a personal sort of pornography stash. The presentation of the pictures in court gave an opportunity for the New York Post to republish them in the paper, which I would guess pretty much ended up dictating the angle on the story.

"DEADLY OBSESSION" reads the headline; "Photos and diary reveal twisted spiral." To me the whole irony is in the bit of lede text that reads: "[He] spent his days taking lewd photos like this (left) of random, unsuspecting women." (And we spend our nights putting them on the front page of our newspaper, is the part the Post leaves unstated.)

At least there's only a little black bar advertising their State of the Union coverage, which was epically unspectacular (were you saying you were waiting for John Podhoretz to weigh in before you decided how you thought the speech was? No, I thought not). "Obama's State of the Union tax plea," reads the rather straightforward sale.

Observations: First of all a bit of housekeeping: I apologize for the late and slow posting of The Front these days; it's been busy around here, but expect me more regularly.

OK! So between the paper that covers only things that have been on the lineup for weeks on its front page, and the one so random it's impossible to imagine it was even assigned, it's hard to pick a winner.

Let's knock off some points for the Post for revictimizing one of Mele's victims, first of all. This isn't a moral penalty: It reflects my belief that the absurdity of it is so patently clear that it is reader-repelling, I think. That it is a flattering picture of a woman's rear end only makes matters worse: Before you get to the main text and realize what you're looking at, you're enjoying the view, so the paper has implicated you. And after all, a lineup of Jorge Posada, Rooney Mara and the president ain't bad, if that's all you've got.

Winner: Daily News.