Sequels to sex scandals, with scare quotes and without

sequels-sex-scandals-scare-quotes-and-without
Today's tabloids, May 21, 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?

The New York Post: Whenever there is an opportunity to put three capital Xs together, the Post takes it, just as surely as it will take any opportunity, in a headline that has even remotely to do with money, to replaces Ss with dollar signs. (LIKE THI$!)

Today's triple-X headline comes to us via an unlikely source: the teachers' union. As my colleague Azi Paybarah pointed out earlier: "The paper has long crusaded against the teachers union and in favor of the charter-school movement, and in that context this story is irresistible: an alleged sex scandal involving the head of the teachers union which took place in a public school."

Michael Mulgrew is accused in a lawsuit of having had sex with a colleague in the woodshop at William Grady High School in Brighton Beach back in 2005. The lawsuit says that he and former chancellor Randi Weingarten offered concessions in union negotiations with the city in exchange for keeping the affair under wraps. "XXXPEL HIM!" reads the main hed, in big black type. "Teachers fume at UFT prez 'sex'" reads the dek. (Presumably "sex" gets scare quotes because it's clear that none of the signatories to the lawsuit actually knows for a fact that the tryst ever happened.)

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But really, the big draw is at the top of the page, in a box set up like an entertainment feature: "RFK Jr. snub" reads the big white text on a blue field. To the left, a silhouette of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; to the right, a picture of his late wife Mary Richardson Kennedy, who hanged herself last week in their Westchester home. "Not invited to NYC memorial for Mary" reads a dek.

The story inside is cobylined. But what is confusing about this is really the seeming lateness of it. At least since Saturday it's been clear that Kennedy was not invited to the memorial service set for sundown today at the Standard Hotel, and the fact that only one of Mary's sisters attended the funeral service organized by the Kennedys was already a big front-page story for the News over the weekend. Is the Post soft-pedaling the trouble in the Kennedy family in the wake of Mary's death? I certainly don't think they are exercising restraint out of respect for the family's privacy, and I can't think what love could be lost between the Kennedys and the Post. So why has the Post seemed to lag on the story? And having done so, why put it on the front now?

Daily News: Meanwhile, the News continues to beat a dead horse. Always first with stories of the ex-Secret Service agent's extramarital affairs! I can't think why this is interesting anymore in print, which can't profit from traffic to the pictures of Dania Suarez and other ladies who have reportedly had sex with the agent in quite the same way.

Is this guy, whose name I always have to look up, in a position to continue to embarrass the administration or the service? It's by far the big sale of the page. Of course it helps that they've got pictures; it seems that Arthur Huntington suffered from a bit of what ailed Anthony Weiner, posting self-admiring pictures of himself in varying states of undress.

The front page choice is a closeup of him in a lip-lock with one of two Texas women who say he had affairs with them while working the security detail in the Bush administration, in Waco, Tex. "Mistresses No. 2 and 3 kiss & tell" reads a dek; "HAIL TO THE CHEAT" reads the main hed. (OK, that's not bad.) Perhaps the most baffling thing is the red strip across the top: "EXCLUSIVE: AGENT FLINGS GO BACK TO PREZ BUSH." Maybe they have some internal numbers on this story that continue to drive it forward on the front page. I can't see it.

It's hardly worth mentioning the other two stories fronted on the News today since both are the opposite of exclusive: A strip at the bottom of the page advertises the paper's coverage of the death of Robin Gibb of Bee Gees fame, and another across the top ("FINALLY!") touts coverage of the death of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was released by Scottish authorities three years ago.

It does seem a little strange that the paper didn't take a different angle on that last one: Multiple families of victims of the Lockerbie air disaster gave interviews yesterday, and local officials including Senator Chuck Schumer are using the occasion to press again for an investigation into whether British authorities succumbed to pressure from Libya in releasing al-Megrahi. There were, in other words, fresher angles to take.

Observations: Sex and scandal are the order of the day. But which sex is sexier, and which scandal more scandalous? There isn't much propping up the Mulgrew story yet, but he at least is presently in a position of power, unlike the well-proportioned former Secret Service agent. And while the Post is a latecomer on the internecine Kennedy-battles beat, I'm not sure that matters to readers so much. Today was a matter of the glance test, and while the News almost got over the blandness of its continued bodyguard-prostitution story, it's still not enough to win.

Winner: New York Post.