12:04 pm Sep. 13, 20121
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?
Face of death
In a slideshow on its homepage yesterday, The New York Times published a photo from Agence-France Presse depicting severely injured American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, as Libyan civilians attempt to come to his aid at the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, before he died later at a hospital.
The publication of the photo online was the occasion of not one but two columns from the paper's Public Editor responding to critics who said publishing the graphic photo was insensitive to Stevens' family and friends, and made public the gruesome moments before Stevens' death.
It is perhaps a sign of what Daily News editor Colin Myler is up against, if he wants to make his paper the city's most influential tabloid, that nobody seems to have taken much notice of the same photo on the News' front page, in print, blown up to fill the whole space and emblazoned with the words "YOU WILL PAY." It's the easy path to a sensational front page about yesterday's events in Libya. The dek reads: "Warships on way to Libyan coast as Obama vows justice for murdered diplomat."
Regular civilians could be forgiven for walking away with the message that we are beginning a war with Libya, even though the number of those "warships" is two, and they are joining an existing force on the ground in Libya that has been there since the downfall of Muammar Khadafy.
But if the News seems to just cycle out the Day 2 story of the events in Libya (plus a baffling isolationist rant from Denis Hamill), the Post goes one step further.
"How Qaeda assassinated US envoy," reads the white text on a red strip across the bottom of the front page today.
Getting ahead of U.S. intelligence's official line, but only by a bit, the paper is running with the idea that yesterday's protest in Benghazi was used as cover by a heavily armed al Qaeda group operating in Libya to launch a planned and coordinated attack on the consulate. Officially, that's still under investigation. Practically speaking, this will be characterized as an al Qaeda operation just in case the attackers think of themselves as loyal to al Qaeda leaders who have asked Libyans to take revenge on the U.S. for the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Qaeda leader who died in an American drone attack in Pakistan. For intelligence purposes, the difference between a Qaeda-inspired attack and one really organized by the terrorist organization is only the potential value of the suspected attackers to interrogators if they're taken alive; in other words, it's a difference that makes little difference to us civilians.
Rape in Central Park
A 73-year-old woman who often goes to Central Park birdwatching was raped in broad daylight yesterday, police say, by a man with whom she had had a confrontation a few days ago. He was at the Rambles, masturbating, and she caught him and took a photo of him.
Before noon yesterday, he confronted her again, physically and sexually assaulted her, and took her backpack. Surveillance photos of the suspect, "described as in his 40s, clean cut with short hair, a stocky build and what the victim believed was a Russian or Ukrainian accent," show him wearing a backpack after the attack. One of the reasons the story is so shocking is because of the time of day; but the other was the place. Central Park's a big place, and not every part is as safe as every other, but Strawberry Fields, the carefully manicured section of the park near the western wall in the low 70s, has to be among the most heavily populated during daytime hours. "CENTRAL PARK OUTRAGE" reads the big text on the front page of the Post today, next to a crop of the surveillance photo. "Woman, 73, raped at Strawberry Fields—in broad daylight."
And "Here it is!" The distinctly unshocking latest iteration of the iPhone gets a strip own the front page of the Post today.
In fact, I agree with the Times' Sullivan about the photo—it has real news value, up to a point. I don't actually have much sympathy for the point of view that the assassination, if that is what it was, of the American ambassador to revolutionary Libya is a private or family affair, as cold as that sounds. The problem for me isn't one of taste but of exploitation, and more importantly, newsworthiness. Look at what a Times editor told her about the prospect of using the photo in the print edition today:
He said the story had moved forward, beyond the point where that photo was as important to the coverage as it was Wednesday morning.
“Thursday’s paper will be a full 24 hours later,” he said. “It’s a second-day story now,” with a different kind of emphasis beyond the immediate news of Mr. Stevens’s death.
She's right, and that's why the Post wins on the Day 2 Benghazi story.
Since that's all the News has, it doesn't really matter that the Post cover story is a much more obvious local draw for a New York tabloid; anyway, it is, and so today is an easy call.
Winner: New York Post.