11:09 am Sep. 12, 2012
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?
As far as I can tell, early editions of the Daily News had no front-page reference whatsoever to the rioting and violence directed at the American embassies in Cairo, Egypt and Benghazi, Libya, even though a short article inside by a staff writer, compiled it seems from wire services, had many of the details available at press time. The lead sentence of the article, on page 6 of the paper in both editions, was updated between the Sports Extra and the last edition, the Sports Final, to reflect that "a diplomat" rather than "a state department employee" had been killed in the violence in Benghazi. That, apparently, moved the story to the front page between editions, even though at the time the real identity of one of the three state department employees who were killed was not yet known. In fact he was Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, which ups the ante on the story even further.
Early editions had fronted a story about overtime for city employees, including a list of names of the ones who had made the most money; the box, which had a picture of a toilet plunger, was replaced with a text-only spot with the main hed, "WE ARE OSAMA," the phrase rioters in Cairo are said to have been chanting as they stormed the walls of the U.S. embassy there in what was largely a nonviolent event. The dek: "American killed as mobs in Libya, Egypt storm consulate & embassy." Inside, the paper got several important details right on short notice. Unlike the Post, they did not attribute the anti-Islamic film that sparked the conflict to Coptic Christians living in the United States, which was an early Al Jazeera report long since refuted by The Wall Street Journal. The News, using reporting from the Journal and the Associated Press, correctly attributed the film to Israeli-American Sam Bacile; the video reached a wide audience after promotions by Florida pastor Terry Jones, famous for sparking violence in Afghanistan by publicly burning Korans, and for burning an effigy of Barack Obama. It was, later reports elsewhere confirmed, also heralded by a Coptic Christian from Egypt living in America known for his vocal denunciations of Islam. But Bacile is the filmmaker.
The News also led all editions with news of the deaths of Americans in Benghazi, whereas the Post, which has a later closing time, led with the film that "sparked a wave of violence across the Middle East." (A map showing the location of Benghazi and Cairo might have been helpful to them.)
In fact the errors in the Post coverage are so many that it would be tedious to document them all in this space. But some of them are particularly interesting, since they are presented without any attribution but their sources are quite clear if you were reading other news reports late last night. Much of their reporting was cribbed from Al Jazeera, which appears to have had significant details wrong. Neither paper identifies Stevens as a victim of the attack in Benghazi, but both suggest he was shot, when it appears in retrospect that early reports that said in fact he died of smoke inhalation in his car when it was struck by a rocket turned out to be correct.
What I don't understand is, if you're writing a story completely by cribbing other news outlets without credit (this is what goes under cover of the little line at the end, "With Post Wire Services"), how do you choose among conflicting reports? It would have been easy enough, wouldn't it, to have said "The names of the victims were not confirmed by the State Department at press time, but several news outlets are reporting that one of them was Christopher Stevens ...", or "Details of the attack were sketchy at press time, with some reports saying an American was shot and dragged into a crowd, and others saying he was killed in his car after a rocket was fired at it." Or, really, anything but this report.
But even more galling in the Post is the willingness, after demonstrating such stupidity about the basic facts of the events, to feed a political story to the Romney campaign. They go whole-heartedly with Mitt Romney's initial statement, using their own editorial voice to refer to the initial State Department statement as an "apology" for the video, even though that statement was released before any significant violence had erupted at the protests in Cairo and long before the situation unfolded in Benghazi. And under the banner of the same news, the paper reproduced the G.O.P. talking points about Obama's relationship to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a public spat that has developed over what Israel says is the White House's refusal of a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders next week during meetings at the United Nations. The whole thing concerns actions against Iran and the threat to Israel that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmajinedad poses. Again, a map would be handy here.
The Post does not appear, meanwhile, to have changed its front page in the course of the eventful evening, leaving a picture of Egyptian protesters standing on the wall of the U.S. consulate, wielding flags and some wearing Guy Fawkes masks, with the headline, "IT'S JUST A STUPID MOVIE." What a stupid front page.
It's not the first time the Standard Hotel's big windows over the High Line have gotten Andre Balasz publicity. But this time, it has to do with the penthouse nightclub The Boom Boom Room's bathrooms. Toilets face out 18 stories over the pedestrian park below, and though the figures are distant and hard to make out without a telephoto lens, serious watchers from the ground below soon become aware that they are watching people using the facilities. There's a picture that actually somewhat lessens the impact; the images have become so grainy with magnification that a reader could reasonably suspect that in fact, the windows are too high up to be visible in a serious way from anywhere. But that's not what I'd like to focus on. Instead I want to point out the language.
Perhaps replaying the front page to account for the events in Cairo and Benghazi gave Colin Myler, the British-bred editor of the paper, a chance to Anglicize some of the display copy? Early editions show a photo of people using the Standard bathrooms with the headline "WEE SEE YA." A red stripe beneath is printed with the words "Standard Hotel's loo view exposed." Later editions promote the Britishism: "Loo gotta be kidding." And nonsensically, the stripe text is changed to "Standard Hotel's rear view exposed." (Savvy readers able to picture the scene will realize that only men who stand to urinate in these toilets' rears are exposed, and that there is, in the practice of most men, little to no actual exposure of the buttocks in this scenario.)
Princess Catherine, or Kate Mountbatten-Windsor, or whatever
I mean after all, Myler has already told us we are in a "frenzy" because Kate, recently married to Prince William of England, forewent a glass of wine at a recent event, suggesting she may be pregnant. I think it is perhaps the case that America is not in on this frenzy. This part of the paper stayed just the same with the front page re-plate.
Observations: Perhaps my feelings about the inside of the Post coverage is clear, but I think it's worth noting that the shoddy job also resulted in their burying the lede, and squandering an opportunity to put much more dramatic photography and much more shocking news on their front page than a relatively minor riot in Cairo. It looks lazy to the point of self-destructive. I may hate all the talk of "loos" and potentially pregnant princesses clogging up the works on the front of today's News, but the Post is embarrassing.
Winner: Daily News.