Willie Neuman beats his old ‘Post’ colleagues on the Secret Service prostitute story, and makes the ‘Times’ blush

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Today's tabloids, April 19, 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: There's lots to say about today's Post wood, but I am going to start by talking about The New York Times.

See, the guy who got the extended and exclusive interview with the escort in Cartagena, Colombia whose scuffle with a Secret Service agent touched off the present booze-and-hookers scandal is William ("Willie") Neuman, ex of the Post.

It's a funny moment in which the Times (for eminently respectable reasons) chases down the angle the Post surely would have if they could have sent an ace to Colombia to ferret the woman out. As it is, the Post's exclusives from on the ground in Colombia since the whole thing began have been mostly non-exclusives—that is, attributed to "Post Wire Services" or NewsCore, the sort-of story-sharing arm of parent company News Corp., which has its tendrils all over the world.

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There is one byline for Harrison Hernandez, on a story in which an interview with an unnamed hotel employee led the Post to add a cocaine charge to the Secret Service men's list of sins that fateful night last week, when they partied out at a club in Cartagena and allegedly picked up as many as 20 prostitutes to bring back to the Hotel Caribe to continue the fun. That story beat Neuman's by a couple of hours, but netted very little for the paper.

I can't help imagining Neuman and Hernandez, who may well just be a stringer, roving Cartagena to get the goods on what happened that night, and the ex-Postie beating the Postie. I even wonder if this all was in Neuman's mind as he was working the streets of Cartagena, because his reporting practically makes the page blush, in the context of the Times. I mean, the headline for the Times piece is "Woman Recounts Quarrel Leading to Agent Scandal." But then there's the lede:

A Secret Service agent preparing for President Obama’s arrival at an international summit meeting and a single mother from Colombia who makes a living as a high-priced escort faced off in a room at the Hotel Caribe a week ago over how much he owed her for the previous night’s intercourse. “I tell him, ‘Baby, my cash money,’ ” the woman said in her first public comments on a dispute that would soon spiral into a full-blown scandal.

Go Willy! But seriously, today's Post seems to know that the two firings and one resignation yesterday gave them an opportunity to go much further than that with the front page than the Times can. And so we get what looks like a boudoir or stock photo attributed to "Ben Parker" with a picture of a scantily clad woman showing her cheek to the camera (not her face, which is part of what makes me think it's a stock photo) kneeling on a rumpled bed. The hed: "3 G-MEN FALL ON THEIR SWORDS." (Get it?) They've given the thing a rubric: a bright red placard at the top with knockout-white type that reads "SECRET SERVICE HOOKER SCANDAL." Floating in the middle is a white box of lede text that begins, "Now, they pay."

Daily News: Last night on Twitter, Michael Bloomberg's press secretary Stu Loeser forecast the big stories on today's tabloids in a tweet: The death of Dick Clark, and the firings in the Secret Service scandal. He won a split: The scandal that took over the Post wood doesn't crack the cover of the News, but the News does offer a "SALUTE TO AMERICA'S OLDEST TEENAGER," which seems like not the cleverest way to express the sentiment that Dick Clark retained his "American Bandstand" youthfulness throughout his life. (It's a debatable proposition anyway, however much Clark's talents remained with him into his 80s.) The very nice vintage "Bandstand"-era silhouette of Clark is only slightly larger than that of Richard Underberg of Jersey City, who holds up his winning "BASEBALL BINGO" ticket and has a look of ... frightened wonderment? ... at being on the front page. I am full of frightened wonderment myself.

But the main story is a big picture of police officer Eder Loor, the man who yesterday we read about being stabbed in the head by a crazed knife-wielding man and who was fighting for his life. He now has a shot at full recovery, doctors seem to be saying. He's with his wife, in a front-facing embrace, and they're looking like the happiest couple ever. A black box hovering over them in yellow text reads, "Wife of stabbed hero cop speaks:" and the big headline text reads "He pulled the knife out of his head."

You may be asking, if all you know is that a crazy guy stuck a knife in Loor's head and that it's probably not wise to pull a knife out again without medics on hand, who pulled the knife out of Loor's head. The vague antecedent isn't just a grammatical quibble. I really wasn't sure.

In fact, Loor pulled it from his own head, and being an E.M.T. himself, knew what to do to keep the wound from bleeding so profusely as to threaten his life. The actual direction of the knife was fortunate, and left him within a sliver of his life anyway, as the inside story tells you.

Observations: It's tempting to view today differently, and award the Times' Neuman for beating the Post on the story they chose; but that's not what we're really here for. (The Times puts "ACCOUNT OF PROSTITUTE" on its upper left.)

What we're really left with is this cheesy Day One and a Half story about the Secret Service sold exclusively with a fairly silly-looking picture of a woman who has no connection to the story, with an admittedly OK headline joke, against a disorganized jumble of stories on the front of the News that leaves one wondering what the editors actually want us to read. It's actually a tough call. For my money, the News' content is better, and was worthy of a better sale. Instead, they let the Post masticate Neuman's reporting, do a half-assed job selling it, and win anyway.

Winner: New York Post.