9:49 am Oct. 23, 20123
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?
HAUNTED HOUSE?: The Daily News reports that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is selling the Bedford estate where his wife, Mary, committed suicide in May. They label the story, based on the publicly available listings on a Westchester real-estate broker's website, an "exclusive."
It's an old reporting staple to have a watch-list of properties coming onto the market and try to be the first to break the news. It's really as simple as monitoring the local real-estate listings; any significant property is going to have representation from one of a small number of brokerages in the area.
It's clear, too, that brokers in Bedford are not trying too hard to keep a lid on the fact that the property is for sale. Pictures of the exterior of the house in the listing are obviously familiar to anyone who followed the story of Kennedy's death; and if there were any doubt, the listing includes pictures of a hallway decorated in a historic "Kennedy campaigns through the decades" theme.
There isn't much else to say, except that the fact of the listing—for $3.9 million, which gets you 10 acres, a private lake, 14 rooms, sauna, swimming pool and totally green construction—puts a capstone on the entire affair:
During the long divorce fight, the lawyers had discussed with Mary the possibility that the house might have to be sold as part of a settlement.
“And she wasn’t happy about that,” [the late Mary Kennedy's lawyer, Peter] Bienstock said. “She loved living in the house and she loved raising her children in the house.”
Here's the listing, if you'd like to gawk. I'm just busy gawking at the broker representing Kennedy in the sale, "Muffin Dowdle, a riding buddy of Martha Stewart," who declined to comment on the sale to the News.
It's a front-page sale that's straightforward almost to a fault: so many words! "RFK JR. SELLS MARY SUICIDE HOUSE." And it's not even really true: He's put it on the market, but as anyone can tell you who has sampled the real-estate market these days, that's not the same thing as selling.
SOCCER DAD PIMP? The Post definitely does not have an exclusive for its main story sale this morning. But it's almost a matter of interpretation, and here, too, an old staple of reporting shows up. Comb the court records and talk to police sources to help you determine which of these dry criminal cases coming out of the District Attorney's office actually might have a "Law & Order"-ready story behind it.
In this case, it'd be the fellow called William Thomas, 42, of Brooklyn, accused of running three rather small-time brothels in Manhattan. He was stung by an undercover john.
Here's the thing: Indictments don't include information like, "He's a good-looking, wholesome-looking fellow whose mom is an actress and who lives in Fort Greene and is a single father and fixture in the hipster-parent population there." For that, you have to get a couple of ideas from cops, and then start rooting around in Brooklyn. They got a photo of the guy pushing a stroller—made to order!—and talked to neighbors about him. And then there was the guy's teenage son, who tweeted a little bit nastily about the whole situation as it broke on network news yesterday evening.
So, no exclusive, but the Post found itself rather badly burned last year when local upstart website DNAinfo beat them to the tale of Madam Gristina, the Soccer-Mom Madam. Not wanting to dignify too much a story they didn't own out of the gate, the paper made the mistake of waiting too long to put its big guns on the story, losing them a serious opportunity.
Unfortunately, Thomas is no Gristina. This looks to all the world like a small-time operation catering to Hasids and guys in suits with $200-$500 to spend and a preference for Asian women.
When it's time to go big reporting on a prostitution ring, newsworthiness consists of two factors: High prices, and the related high-profile johns a newspaper hopes to identify as the case starts to shake them loose. I don't think we'll be hearing much about Thomas on either score.
But for today, it's a nice little package. There's that picture of Dad, pushing a stroller through dappled sunlight, and an inset photo on the lower left of a woman facing away from the camera wearing skimpy underwear and black thigh-high boots, sort of caressing herself in front of a wall for no obvious reason. The text, in knockout-white over black, reads simply "PIMP POP!" The dek: "Brooklyn Mr. Mom's 'brothel' secret." (Why the quotation marks around "brothel"? Because this is an indictment, not a conviction, so they're, sort of, quoting the district attorney.)
BARACK OBAMA AND THE DEATHLY 'HOLLOW' Well, I don't have much more energy to expend on the Post's debate coverage. In the three presidential debates, their scorecard reflects a 2-1 record for Barack Obama and a 1-0 for Joe Biden.
But as you may remember, Biden's victory, in the estimation of the Post's reporters, created a "problem" for the Obama campaign, because it was an upstaging of the president.
Today, Obama's performance is deemed on the front page a "hollow debate victory." It was "hollow" because "Romney stood his ground," and because Romney succeeded in "reminding voters that Obama has focused much of his campaign on tearing down Romney."
"Romney, with no experience in international affairs, got through the debate without committing a gaffe. That may be enough for his campaign to call the night a success," the Post reports.
The News presents the consensus view, based on the fact that Obama was the aggressor: "GOTCHA, MITT!" reads the yellow text over a blue box. "Bruiser Bam 'bayonets' Romney in final showdown." They advertise four pages of coverage, to the Post's two, which may tell you most of what you need to know about the Post's position on the debate.
OBSERVATIONS: As pathetic as the "hollow victory" line is on the front of the Post, the debates are a tough thing the morning after, when so much of the thing has been processed already on the web and on cable news. It's not really the province of a print edition to declare its position on the event and see who shakes out to dominate the narrative as the day progresses. The consensus is formed, and all there is to do is go with it or buck it. Bucking it is fun! And I think actually even I would be more likely to pick up the Post if I'd had to decide this morning, just to see how they possibly manage to make last night bad news for the president. I'm probably not alone. They're hardly worth putting on the front page, really; so if you bother to give it space at all, why not try to make it count?
What we're really talking about today, though, is two staple reporting methods clashing: Combing real-estate listings and combing court documents. I may not think "PIMP POP!" has legs, but then I didn't know for sure til I read all the details. As for the Kennedy house, it was only a matter of time, right? If the News had any more to tell me about the postmortem Mary Kennedy saga besides this, surely they'd tell me?
What's more, ask anyone today what the Post front page was, and they'll say "PIMP POP." Ask what the News had today and they'll say, "Oh, RFK Jr. is selling the house where his wife killed herself." Which is pretty much the headline on the front of the News. We need to get just a little bit better than that with our tabloid headlines, I think.
WINNER: New York Post.