Assertive, conflicting presentations of the Greg Kelly rape accusation

Today's tabloids, Jan. 27, 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?

I'm going to do this a little differently today, since both papers front the same story. Here's how the accounts match up.

Both papers report:

  • On Tuesday night, a woman walked into the 13th Precinct to tell police she'd been raped by Greg Kelly, morning television anchor for "Good Day NY" and son of police commissioner Ray Kelly.
  • The accuser is a paralegal at a law firm in the Financial District.
  • The accuser went out drinking with Kelly the night of Oct. 8 after meeting him "on the street."
  • The accuser says she was drunk at the time.
  • The accuser says that they went to her offices because her boyfriend was at home.
  • The accuser says that she got pregnant from the encounter and had an abortion.
  • A series of text messages were exchanged between the two that suggested she wanted to meet Kelly again, it is strongly suggested, for a date or dates. The Manhattan district attorney's office was provided copies of the text messages by Kelly's lawyer.
  • The accuser's boyfriend approached police commissioner Ray Kelly at a public event and said something to the effect of, "Your son ruined my girlfriend's life"; he wouldn't elaborate, and Kelly told the boyfriend to write a letter, which he never did.
  • Greg Kelly has "requested time off" or "a leave of absence" and did not appear on his show yesterday morning.

Where the papers seem to differ or contradict each others' accounts:

  • Both papers report the accuser told cops she got pregnant, but the Post reports that she knew the child was Kelly's because she was not having sex with her boyfriend while the News reports that the boyfriend had had a vasectomy.
  • Both papers report on the incident between Ray Kelly and the accuser's boyfriend, but the Post reports the confrontation was "shortly after the alleged rape" on Oct. 8 while the News reports that the event was "recent."
  • Both papers report that the accuser told cops she was drunk, but only the Post adds that she told cops she nevertheless knows they had sex and that she did not consent.

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Details only carried by the News:

  • The accuser called Kelly on the phone angry, at some unspecified time, and said, "Why'd you do that?" referring to his actions the night of Oct. 8.
  • The accuser is 30 years old, graduated from a prestigious private school, and her father is a prominent lawyer.
  • If she recorded the phone call it could complicate the interpretation of the evidence from the texts. If not, the texts could determine the course the case takes.
  • The boyfriend noticed the accuser had morning sickness and because he had had a vasectomy knew he couldn't have been the father, which is possibly how he came to know about the pregnancy, though ABC, the News notes, has reported that he found a trove of emails between the accuser and Kelly and was "enraged" by them.
  • The boyfriend is "much older" than the accuser.
  • An interview with Kelly's co-anchor Rosanna Scotto in which she says only "I love Greg."
  • An interview with former sex-crime prosecutor and mystery novelist Linda Fairstein in which she says she doesn't see a case here, though she admits she only knows what she reads and watches in the news.

Details carried only by the Post:

  • The accuser was accompanied by her sister when she came to the precinct to press charges.
  • The D.A. is leaning toward not filing criminal charges, according to a source.
  • The lag time between the rape and her report of it; the text messages exchanged between the two between Oct. 8 and the present; the fact that her boyfriend confronted the commissioner before she went to police are all factors leading sources in the investigation to tell the Post, in several similar phrasings, that the accuser's story "just reeks of BS."
  • Kelly has hired "P.R. maven Ken Sunshine."
  • A lengthy description of how the D.A.'s office is caught between embarrassment at having pursued the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's alleged rape of midtown hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallou so vigorously, only having to decide to drop it, and the perception of favoritism for the son of the police comissioner.
  • A lengthy account of Kelly's on-air interview with D.A. Cyrus Vance in which Kelly pushes him on why they dropped the investigation into the D.S.K. affair.
  • A friend of the woman said the accuser became “an emotional cripple” after the incident, according to ABC News.

The wood:

The News emphasizes that the accuser told police that she became pregnant as a result of her encounter with Kelly. "KELLY GIRL GOT PREGNANT" reads the giant knockout-white text on a black field taking up most of the News front page. This despite the fact that that element of the story was reported widely yesterday on television and on the web. There's a picture of a grimacey-looking Greg Kelly next to the lead text, which actually describes the tension in the evidence between the phone call the accuser claims to have made to Kelly and the text messages Kelly's lawyers provided to investigators.

The Post fronts its reporting showing that the D.A.'s office is inclined to believe the accuser's story is either untrue or impossible to act on. "DA SMELLS A RAT" reads the knockout-white text over a picture of Kelly pére et fils. "Rape claim vs. Kelly's son 'reeks of BS.'"

In other words, the Post leads with what makes its account different from the rest, while the News leads with the news we already know about the case.

So it's a case where the approach in the reporting actually made one cover more effective than the other. I think the question of the evidence developing from both sides of the case is interesting and, as lawyers might say, probative. But the Post gets to skip all that—which after all can be hard to turn into a compelling front-page treatment, by just getting background sources to tell them this case isn't likely to happen.

While the News has given us much more detail around the event and the accuser, it's a dead-end: The paper will not identify the accuser, per policy, until something happens that makes it clear she means herself to be identified as Kelly's accuser. And at that time, if it ever comes, we will all know everything anyway without the News' help.

Winner: New York Post.