Inside the 'pleasure pit' of Anna Gristina, who speaks of her interrogators but not the men they're after
9:45 am Mar. 9, 20121
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?
New York Post: The Post appears to have wiped away its tears and gotten down to business this week, after a rough beginning. On Monday the paper was beaten to the big bust of alleged madam Anna Gristina by DNAinfo; its scant article recapping the news didn't bubble to the surface of Page One meetings and so the Post lost a big opportunity. It's made the cover since, but without really much exclusive new news to report on the story.
But yesterday a Post reporter got the gold: An exclusive jailhouse interview with Gristina at Rikers Island. It's a full-page takeover with a black background and giant, blaring, white-outlined lipstick-red print across the top that reads: "Post exclusive: First interview." Even bigger, the knockout-white type that reads "MADAM TELLS" next to a silhouette of Gristina taken from that Facebook boudoir photo. Sensing where readers want the story to go next, a small dek reads "DA's list of 10 big names."
Under that, in a red strip with yellow text, it says, "Plus: First photos inside the East Side pleasure pit." That leads to a spread of photos from inside the actual apartment, also billed as a Post exclusive.
Despite what the dek seems to promise, you won't find the district attorney's list of client names; rather, Gristina, who tells her side of the story pretty effectively, simply says there was a list of names given to her of real-estate high-flyers and politicians by interrogators who wanted her to tell them everything she knew about them. She said she knew about five of them, as friends or business contacts and not as clients, but wouldn't give up any information; that after hours of this type of interrogation, she was arrested on a single charge of promoting prostitution, a relatively minor offense.
She never quite says she wasn't running a brothel out of the East 78th Street apartment cops identified, but she does say her "accused co-madam," whom the D.A.'s office has described as being on the lam, was simply on an annual vacation in the Caribbean and only just discovered cops wanted to talk to her. She said that the woman ran a legitimate match-making service for her; that most of her money went into investments in real-estate and with friends' companies, and that she didn't make that much money, and that her family struggles to keep up with college tuition and utility bills. She said her meeting with a Morgan Stanley banker was only to talk about setting up a legitimate online matchmaking service. Mostly, she believes that she was only arrested because cops couldn't turn her on that list of 10 men, whom she believes are the real targets of the D.A.'s sting.
Daily News: Meanwhile the News, which was much more aggressive out of the gate on the Gristina story than the Post, drops it entirely today in favor of reality-television stars Donald Trump and Heidi Klum.
They're two separate stories. The first, and bigger one, is basically just a Donald Trump special. He's friends with New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, but still, yesterday, he suggested that Peyton Manning, whom Johnson is trying to recruit for the home team, ought to go play in Miami instead. There's some nice art directions here: Silhouettes of Trump and Manning are chosen for maximum comic effect to seem to show the two of them in a highly expressive confrontation. Trump is wearing that know-it-all, down-the-nose grin as he points his index finger out forward at a Manning silhouette cut to look like he's telling Trump to "talk to the hand." "HAIR BRAIN" reads the giant black text at the top; "Traitor Trump: Miami's best for Peyton."
Meanwhile, Heidi Klum seems to be bursting out of the tall, taupe box along the left margin, in a cleavage-flattering slinky black dress, an expertly managed case of bed-head afflicting her hair. "HEIDI'S LIPS UN-SEALED" reads the knockout-white type across her thighs. It's a joke: She recently divorced the singer Seal, see? There's another joke too, this one unintended. What Klum has "broken her silence" to tell Elle magazine in an April cover story is that she won't talk about her break-up or her kids' reaction to it, as Seal has done in television appearances. So, really, her lips are Sealed. Seal's are the ones that are un-Sealed.
Observations: On another day, the cover of the News would be a fairly deft deployment of famous faces to sell a page with not a lot going for it. There's a heavy dose of outrage and a spot of pretty. On another day, the Post might have had substantially the same cover. But in the story on which the tabloids are presently competing most hotly, the Post has the goods, and knows how to tell us that it does.
Winner: New York Post.