Hillary Clinton drinks beer in a Cuban-themed bar while her spokesman reads

Today's tabloids, April 16, 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?

New York Post: I'm not sure it really matters what anyone has to say about the appearance of secretary of state Hillary Clinton after midnight at a nightclub in Cartagena during the Summit of the Americas last night; it's all just extended caption, really. And that's something the Post knows well enough to choose a photo of Clinton knocking her head back behind an amber-colored bottle at a bar table, and thinking long enough to come up with the headline "SWILLARY."

There is an attempt to link the outing, which came at the end of a stressful summit that focused on the United States' policy of alienating Cuba, and which transpired hours after The Washington Post broke the news that the Secret Service was conducting an inquiry into whether 11 of their detail in Colombia had hired a group of prostitutes and partied with them in their hotel room late last week, to larger things.

Here's the dek: "Hill knocks back brew as scandal rocks summit."

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Call it the Foreign Service Spring Break: Wheels up, everyone! But the evidence seems to show that this little night out was just that: little. Clinton arrived with "a dozen pals and her State Department security detail" and racked up a bar tab of "a dozen beers, two shots and bottles of water." Let's just say Clinton probably didn't need to take Alka Seltzer in the morning. Oh, she danced, and thanked the Cuban-themed band; the place was called Cafe Havana, and the Post tries to score on that front, too, asking whether it was appropriate for the Secretary of State to party at a Cuban-themed bar after a summit in which they refused pleas to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba. It's not clear why it wouldn't be, and it doesn't really get anywhere. Mostly it's just: Look at Hillary knocking back a beer! Secretaries of state are just like us!

The most puzzling thing is probably Clinton spokesman Phillipe Reines, who, asked to comment on the Cuban question, said only “I was in my hotel room, reading,” which is a bit of personal information that didn't matter to us and which seems to draw some kind of contrast between the propriety of his own behavior and that of his boss? It was just weird.

Daily News: Not that the Secret Service scandal isn't full of grist for the tabloid mill: the News tries to capture a break with photos and interviews conducted inside the nightclub ("Pleyclub") where the secret-service agents allegedly met their paid companions. It's billed as an "EXCLUSIVE," though I'm not sure that means nobody else could have gotten pictures of the place. Interviews with locals are interspersed with translated local newspaper clips inside the paper. Predictably, the place is a bit of a dump, but not so much that the pictures are particularly shocking or interesting. "LOVE CLUB" reads the big type. Then, very awkwardly: "Inside where Obama's agents met hookers."

I mean, this is pretty much just willful misinterpretation of the facts, since these agents were not assigned to the president's detail (nor is it clear to me quite what detail they were assigned to, except that it seems they were responsible for conducting metal detectors at various locations surrounding the conference in Cartagena).

Observations: Will the "exclusive pics" draw readers in? My own skepticism about what would greet me inside is after all informed by a daily study of tabloid tricks. But I think this is a case where the News went with something it could own at a net cost, because to me, the former first lady downing a beer is just a picture you want to have today. And by the way, I'll go out on a limb and say this Secret Service scandal will fizzle quick. Some people seem more annoyed at the agents for having a fight with a prostitute about paying her than for seeing them in the first place; that's certainly what the locals seem to think, given redactions of local newspaper coverage we get in today's News. One other thing: The News has other work to do today besides selling readers on content. They've got this "PLAY & WIN" scratch-off baseball bingo thing I don't understand and don't care to. I suppose these sorts of contests sell papers, but I don't know how to judge that; to me it just looks like a big waste of space, and it kills whatever impact the paper hoped to gain from "Inside where Obama's agents met hookers."

Winner: New York Post.