Red-top treatment for the Canadian woman who came before Dania Suarez

Today's tabloids, May 16, 2012. (click here to enlarge) ()
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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 have never, ever gotten the joke where you show up at a party in your honor and everyone is wearing paper cut-out masks printed with photographs of your face. What is meant? Why is it funny?

It's sort of like the part of the novel The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, in which office-worker Howie reflects on the fact that people signing cards for office co-workers write their messages at odd angles to each other.

An almost missable Photoshop trick performed by the Post today has the same effect. It's the famous bin Laden-raid situation-room photo released by the White House a little over a year ago, but with a silhouette of the president's face shopped over all of the attendees' faces.

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The hed gives us not much to go on: "Michael Goodwin," reads large up-and-down underlined text at the top of the strip that crosses the top of the page. "Obama faces a big problem."

Well, "faces" is just a way to link the photo gag, apparently sent to Goodwin by "a reader," to the display copy. Inside, what we have is a bit of a ramble about how Romney is gaining on Obama, and the way you can tell is how the lefty media is rushing to Obama's side. It's not worth very much of your time unless you like Michael Goodwin and want him to tell you things you already think. The Post either thinks that Michael Goodwin's name is a big draw, or they intend to start putting it on the front page with some frequency now in the hopes of making it so while there's a campaign on.

We've often remarked that the beginning of the summer-movie season brings a new dynamic to the tabloid fronts. With the prospect of a slowdown in the news cycle for the summer, it's convenient that famous people (actors) will each week deliver a news peg that can get their pictures on the fronts of the papers to pull in readers with reviews of their new movies. Today, it's Sasha Baron-Cohen in his Dictator drag, in another illustration that it's no longer necessary for a review to be newsworthy—by, say, proclaiming something the best movie of the year, or a total bomb—for it to serve the front.

Thirteen Obamas and one Sasha Baron Cohen still leave room enough for a lead story on something completely different. "TRAITOR IN BLUE" reads the big, heavy black type. "NYPD cop aided drug crew: feds."

It's actually a kind of titillating story, in that the feds believe the cop wasn't really taking money from local drug lords in exchange for giving them information about investigations and doing things like running license-plate numbers for them; he just wanted to keep them as friends. There is the promise of a pretty great psychological profile here, but it's just a promise for now. It's not an exclusive, but it's a good story.

Daily News: And for proof that an exclusive does not necessarily mean a good story, look no further than the cover of the News today, which brings us word that a year ago, and months before the Secret Service scandal in Colombia, Arthur Huntington (the agent who allegedly stiffed the prostitute in Cartagena, blowing the scandal up) had an affair with a woman from Canada.

Their two meetings took place in Dublin and in New York City. Huntington portrayed himself as a divorced father; she was a divorced mother.

When CNN named Huntington on April 27th, the Canadian woman, whose name is being withheld by the News, decided to talk to reporters to let Huntington's wife know that Cartagena was not a "one-time thing."

Presumably the option was also open to her just to contact Huntington's wife, which makes me wonder why she instead chose a New York city tabloid to tell her tale to. It's not a particularly interesting tale unless you think that it matters whether Secret Service agents are cheating on their wives. But the way it's played on the News front page, you'd think this was the big scoop.

Once again, the British "red-top" style, the mother tongue of newish News editor Colin Myler, is in effect. It's a full-page takeover with up-and-down, large, knockout-white left-aligned type, a favorite red-top treatment for headlines written in the first person that are "confessional." The text reads, "Hooker agent cheated with me, too."

It took me a while to sort that out actually. There is a blown-up black-and-white photo of Huntington, with a red circle that says "FIRST PHOTO." (Also red-top stuff: "FIRST PHOTO" means this is the first photo of Huntington to have emerged; not that the News is the first to publish it.) There's a box with a red bar exclaiming the story an EXCLUSIVE, and an inset picture of the front page from April 20th, which carried a similar FIRST PHOTO of Cartagena prostitute Dania Suarez with a distinctly foreign-seeming red circle that read "WE BRING YOU ALL THE HOT EXCLUSIVES FIRST." It was funny because the Post ran the same photo on its front the same day.

Observations: The cover of the News is Myler all the way. But does the audience for the News care whether a Secret Service agent who was a nobody before the Cartagena prostitute scandal blew up had previously cheated on his wife? Maybe I'm wrong, but I think not.

Once again today, looking at the Post, I find myself thinking things I normally think about the News: The page is crowded with too many decent guesses about what will pull readers in, so it presents itself as scattered and indecisive. Lumenick's review of The Dictator basically says it's not that funny, but it's not that terrible either. Is that a review any of us can make use of? Never mind, there isn't really even an attempt to sell it. And I've said my piece on the Goodwin sale. Save it for staff birthday parties among the cubicles, guys.

What it really comes down to is whether this cop-crime story is interesting or important enough to beat sex. I'm inclined to remember something that a one-time Postie used to say to me: Sex wins every time. I'm not sure I agree, but the Post doesn't come up with enough of the goods to beat it, this time. It's close today.

Winner: Daily News.