Sheherezad Jaafari in a pretty dress, under an old Barbara Walters joke
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: “It’s a little ugly to see how the sausage is made to land these big interviews,” an unnamed television executive told The New York Times' Bill Carter last night, after Barbara Walters apologized in a statement for her sausage-making.
I'll try to boil it all down for anyone who hasn't been watching this obsessively over the last 24 hours or so. Last year, Walters landed an interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Recently, a Syrian opposition group intercepted some government communications and found that al-Assad's press secretary, Sheherezad Jaafari, who had organized the interview for Walters, had continued her correspondence with the "View" cohost in the hopes of assistance landing a job or a spot at a journalism school in the United States. Walters said she could not organize an interview at her own ABC News, but reached out to the Walds: père, a onetime second-in-command at ABC News who now lectures at the journalism school at Columbia University; and fils, a producer of Piers Morgan's CNN interview show.
The Telegraph published much of the correspondence.
The reason I come back to that Bill Carter quote is because today the New York Post provides the proscenium for a theater of outrage on the subject. Assad is a monster, and what's happening in Syria is an abomination. Jaafari ought to be off limits to most Americans doing any kind of business: She is the daughter of the Syrian ambassador to the U.N., and Western delegations have been banished from Syria while the government shelling of Syrian towns and villages continues apparently unmolested by any serious action on behalf of the West.
But the reason the Post turns on the footlights for a Syria story today is because Barbara Walters, in a rather mundane way, has gotten herself tied up in the story.
They have some good reasons. First of all, it gives them "ALLY BABA." I fear that many readers below a certain age will not get all of the grooves this needle glides through, from the Middle Eastern-ish Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves thing, to Gilda Radner's old impersonation of Walters (whose speech she mocks to great effect by referring to herself as "Baba Wawa"). The one that boys and girls of all ages will not fail to get is the Ali/Ally play, and that's the one that doesn't read. (Ally and Ali are not homophones.)
It's a straightforward news treatment to show Walters in a state room with Assad, in a photo from the interview. And although I would hardly have called her interview "hard-hitting," as she did in an apology today, it's not a candid on par with some of the photos of Bushes shaking hands with Saudi princes, or even Hillary Clinton kissing Suha Arafat on the cheek. It doesn't hurt that our Sheherezad (another fortuitous literary reference!) is pretty and glamorous, and can be pictured much bigger on the front of the Post in a fairly modest but still cleavage-benefitting sparkly, strappy dress.
"Walters: I boosted Assad aide," reads the dek.
A blue stripe across the bottom of the page is about Wisconsin, which the Post did not make as big a deal of as they might have.
Daily News: The first thing I thought when I saw the front page of the News this morning, I swear, was, "Where did they find that old bikini glamor shot of Patricia Krentcil?" Then I read the text: "GUESS WHO THIS IS!" I wasn't shocked by the "SHOCKING ANSWER ON PAGE 3," but if I try to put myself in the mind of someone who was, all I could think is, what a disappointment! This is supposed to be someone famous, isn't it? Like, can you believe this is a picture of ... Nancy Pelosi? or something. Patricia Krentcil, by the way, is the "TAN MOM."
Even more disappointing is the endless rollout of stories about sexy teachers that have almost no news in them. "PERVS GONE WILD!" reads the big, black headline. "Moore sex misconduct raps than in all 2011." For context, a thin strip of military stenciling across the top of the page reads "CITY SCHOOLS IN CRISIS." It's not that I think statutory rape or sexual harassment (even when the age difference makes consensual sex legal) isn't horrifying. But aren't stricter discipline and more vigorous investigation the main sources of these increases? And is this really the biggest problem in "OUR SCHOOLS"? More than that, the News is socking us with this just a few too many times. Can we please shelve the enterprisey Operation Horndog High for a bit until we have another actual story?
Observations: Well, it's gotta be the Ali Baba headline, doesn't it?
Winner: New York Post.