1:03 pm Oct. 26, 20124
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?
TRAGEDY: Whatever drove Yoselyn Ortega, the Upper West Side nanny being held on suspicion of having murdered two children in her charge yesterday afternoon in their apartment, to her apparent act we will have to wait to discover. As will police, I suspect: They are still waiting for her to recover sufficiently from what they believe is a self-inflicted knife wound to her neck, sustained in a suicide bid after she stabbed six-year-old Lucia and two-year-old Leo Krim multiple times, killing them both. Until then, we only have some of Ortega's Washington Heights neighbors' testimony, and that of some people she used to meet in the hallways and sidewalks where she was often seen with the Krim children.
And most of that is not decisive.
This will be the crime of the year. But, why?
Some people will say that it is because the Krims are white and relatively wealthy: Kevin Krim is an executive at CNBC digital, and his wife Marina Krim, identified initially by the Post as a pediatrician, is actually largely a stay-at-home mom, and the nanny was mostly help and triage. For instance, yesterday afternoon, when Krim's daughter Nessie had to be taken to swimming practice, her siblings were left at home under Ortega's supervision. When, after a not-long time, Krim returned to the apartment, she discovered her children, dead, and the nanny, suffering from the knife wound.
Her cries and those of her super, who was with her, rent the late afternoon quietude of the block, steps from Central Park West; an expensive neighborhood full of dual income families with household and childcare help.
And that is why the people who will say this story is getting attention because it happened in a fancy neighborhood are correct. The stories of children caught in crossfire in bad neighborhoods are no less important, of course, and actually speak to a deeper societal problem, given the frequency with which they occur.
But that's the point, in news-production terms; they're more common than a completely inexplicable cold-blooded murder of two Upper West Side children by a nanny with no criminal record, and a history of close friendship with the family.
Which is why The New York Times, which almost never puts stories like this on its front page, did it today. (By contrast, as Tom Scocca pointed out this morning, the Times gave about six column-inches near the bottom of A28 to an unbylined story about "a young woman with stab wounds and a child with serious injuries who later died," found by firefighters in the Bronx. The online version of the story carries the byline of Colin Moynihan.)
The tabloids attempt to wrench every drop of pathos and outrage from pretty much any murder they can find an angle on.
It's almost possible to forget here that yesterday afternoon we were all talking about a cop from Forest Hills who had conspired with others to plot the kidnap, murder, torture and cannibalization of a list of women. I had been dreading writing the column today, for fear the fact that nobody had actually been hurt yet as a result of all of this cop's scheming would give license to the tabloids to make a lot of jokes about eating people. It would have been horrific. And at first, I got what I feared: The Daily News gave the top half of its front page toa picture of the alleged plotter, Gilberto Valle, next to the words "Cook 'em, Danno." But by the time the last edition came off the presses, Valle was gone and the Upper West Side child murders had taken over the whole page.
It was the right decision, of course, even if it took too long for the paper to make it. This story will be an even bigger story than the tragedy of the Christmas Day fire in Stanford, Conn., that killed all three of fashion executive Madonna Badger's children and her parents, too, last year. Why? Because there was, really, no criminal in that case. Whereas, when she comes out of the hospital, Yoselyn Ortega is likely to become one of the most famous, most hated accused criminals in recent memory.
The New York Post illustrates the story the way you instinctually want it to be illustrated, even if it feels like a terrible intrusion on the hysterical grief of the family: with a picture of Marina Krim, her face a mask of tragedy, her eyes closed and her mouth agape, through the rear window of an ambulance that was taking her from the scene of the crime to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, where she was sedated and where her husband, returning from a business trip in California, was brought by police who met him at the airport and broke the news of the tragedy to him.
"MY BABIES!" reads the enormous, knockout-white text. "Mom finds tots slain 'by nanny.'" There are really heartbreakingly cute pictures of the two little victims above some lead-in text.
This is what people immediately think when they hear the details of this story: Not of the horror of the children, which is beyond comprehension and which will not become graphically clear, if ever, until the only apparently living witness, Ortega, tells the story. It's the horror of the mother, returning home to find the tragedy, that we immediately attempt to access when we hear about news like this. And that's what the Post offers.
The News was not at a disadvantage here. Their shooter, Peter Gerber, took the photo the paper used on its front page, of Ortega, barely visible on a stretcher and covered in blankets as responders attempt to put an oxygen mask on her and load her into an ambulance. Gerber took a similar photo of Krim in the back of the ambulance. They just didn't choose it for the front page, even after replating it to remove the cannibal.
The decision continues through to the copy: "KILLER NANNY." It is altogether not the emotionally resonant element of the story today and it won't be until tomorrow, at the earliest, when police reveal more about Ortega's background, possible motives, and what exactly happened inside that Upper West Side apartment.
Expect to spend a lot of time with this case in the tabloids for the next few weeks. And if there is a criminal trial, expect to be thinking about the poor Krims for a long time.
Winner: New York Post.