The heartwarming story of Larry DePrimo and a shoeless man, told for effect

Today's tabloids, Nov. 30, 2012. ((Click here to enlarge.))
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

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?

LOTS MORE MR. NICE GUY: Let's begin by saying: This Larry DePrimo seems like a really, really nice guy. And his overnight fame is, unlike so much "viral" fame, the product of a genuine and pretty straightforward appreciation for his niceness. Unreconstructed internet cynics should be reminded today that Stories and Pictures of Extreme Niceness is high up on the list of intensely shareable memes, up there with with Extreme Nastiness, Extreme Cuteness, Extreme Humiliation and Extreme Weather. The common denominator of the web is unrefined and uncomplicated emotion.

But the fact is that uncomplicated emotional responses are never really uncomplicated. And this is something the New York Post demonstrates today with its headline about DePrimo.

Let's begin at the beginning: DePrimo, a fresh-faced 25-year-old cop normally assigned to the Sixth Precinct in Greenwich Village was stationed up at West 44th Street and Broadway on the evening of Nov. 15 around 9:30 p.m. when he saw someone laughing at an old man sitting on the sidewalk in no shoes as temperatures dropped close to freezing. DePrimo stopped and asked the guy where his shoes were; the man said, "It's OK sir, I've never had a pair of shoes."

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

But DePrimo asked his size anyway, and dashed into a nearby Skechers store and bought a pair of warm, insulated boots from the store, explaining his situation. The salespeople applied their employee discount to the $100 purchase; then DePrimo made a second stop at a store to buy a pair of insulated socks.

Returning to the man, he actually put the socks and shoes on the man's blistered feet, got a big smile back, and went on his way.

It's not that DePrimo didn't feel he'd had an extraordinary moment. When he got home he told his parents about it, flushed with emotion from the experience, and they hugged him. But it would have stayed between the elderly man, the Skechers salespeople, DePrimo and his parents if a tourist from Arizona, an ex-cop herself, hadn't taken a cell phone pic of the transaction and posted it to her Facebook page.

The NYPD picked it up for its own page, and hundreds of thousands of views and likes later, it's on the front page of our tabloids.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his weekly WOR radio show this morning, had this to say (emphasis added):

"This is a great story and a great example ... More importantly, he represents something. What he represents is the world's greatest police department. They're tough men and women when they have to be and they're compassionate, because they're New Yorkers and that's what they're trained to do—help people."

But Bloomberg wasn't the first to make DePrimo's action emblematic of the morals of the entire police department. And there was no element of defensiveness in Bloomberg's statement, just a well-deserved shout-out to his loyal men and women in uniform.

It's different on the front page of the Post, which derives a pun (of sorts) from the controversial NYPD stop-and-frisk program. Critics of the program are easily categorized as cop-haters, just as promoters of it are easily categorized as fascists. Again, it's the emotional, not the intellectual range here that is circumscribed. "STOP & FITS" reads the cover of the Post over the viral photo. "Cop: Why I bought homeless guy shoes."

I'll mention first of all that I don't understand why it isn't "STOP & FIT." Why is one verb in the infinitive and the other third-person? Is "FITS" thought to rhyme any better with "FRISK" than "FIT"?

But more substantially, it's the Post here characterizing DePrimo's action as a rebuke to stop-and-frisk critics, a category of people it enjoys lambasting both in its editorial pages and in its front-page treatments. The irony of course is that the emotional range exhibited by DePrimo himself, in his action and in the explanations he gives to the papers, is pretty vast.

The News has the same story of course, though theirs has the slightly more heartwarming headline "HEART & SOLE." Dek: "Angel 'boot' cop: Just doing my job." That is actually not quite what he said of course; it's just what you expect someone to say when they get highly praised for a supererogatory act and don't want to be self-congratulatory. In fact what he said was that it was his job to help people, and that the experience was "humbling" to him.

But the News does several things to mar this smooth-sailing cover story, even with a headline that works and a photo that is a proven seller.

First, there is one of those big red circles around the boots, when the boots are perfectly easy to see without this aid.

Second, they've decided to seriously sharpen the low-res phone image, which makes everyone in the photo look a bit like they are stitched with very staticky fiber onto an embroidery cloth, or like the picture is made by pouring sand over glue.

Third, they've decided to silhouette the shoeless guy's head just enough to slip the headline underneath it. This can certainly be done, but done sloppily, as it is here, it's hugely distracting and breaks the realism of the photo.

Fourth, they've splashed a dumb banner across the top of the page with what they probably think is a "smart take" on Lindsay Lohan's 29th (roughly) arrest since she moved to New York City, for allegedly hitting a fellow club-goer in the face. "Go away!" reads the yellow text. "LiLo busted AGAIN in club brawl."

The AGAIN is said with such mock horror that it almost feels like it must be sarcastic, but I don't think it is. It's a dud and it subtracts enough from the main story, without adding anything in return, that the whole page feels flat.

OBSERVATIONS: I guess I've pretty much said it all already so let's proceed to the award ceremony.

WINNER: New York Post.