Amid shooting horrors, Anne Hathaway shows how to respond to a flash

Today's tabloids, Dec. 12, 2012. ((Click here to enlarge.))
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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?

THE POST TRIES FOR CONTROVERSY, AGAIN: You may remember how much time we all spent talking last week about the New York Post front page showing a picture of Ki-Suck Han, the man who was run over by a Queens-bound subway at the 49th Street station after being pushed onto the tracks.

The Post played along with the outrage at the photo, even publishing a story documenting the "controversy" it had created.

Today, in case we had had any doubt about the Post's feelings on about-to-die photography, we get an image from a surveillance camera of a man and his assassin on a Manhattan sidewalk right before the murder. The Post is doing it again, though it feels a bit different this time.

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On Monday afternoon, 31-year-old Brandon Woodard was walking west on West 58th Street when an assailant trailed him for seven paces and then shot him through the back of the head. Woodard was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The street was crowded with witnesses and surrounding buildings, including a boys' choir school, that are outfitted with tons of security cameras, so there has been no shortage of footage of the shooting available to police. And it was the police themselves who released the footage and stills, in the hopes of identifying the plainly visible but still unidentified shooter, who made his getaway with a driver in what appears to have been a carefully orchestrated execution.

Unlike Han, Woodard is totally unaware of what is about to happen. According to police, before the shot rang out, he looked over his shoulder at the man behind him and appeared not to recognize him. So the Woodard we see here is not in terror for his life; we are not complicit in deriving entertainment value from his torment.

So the image on the front of today's Post is different in almost every respect that matters from the one they published of Ki-Suck Han, except in the paper's treatment of the text around the image, which goes for the same shock value. "Drawing his gun, this assassin is about to kill," reads the text along the left margin, over a photo of the assassin, hand in his pocket or waistband, a pace behind Woodard, who appears to be texting while walking.

The text around the Han photo read, "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die."

Of course, everything I am saying is just stuff the Post would say to detractors, if it ever bothered to do anything with detractors but derive publicity from them. As with its treatment of the Han photo, this cover makes plain the paper's amoral motivation. They're gaming the public conscience for newsstand sales.

MORE BLEEDING LEADING: It's been a big week for murders on the front pages of course. While the Post runs its second cover on the Woodard shooting, the News runs a second murder cover that is not about the Woodard shooting. Yesterday it was about the murder of a man by his son in Queens, a little more than a year after the man's wife was found dead in suspicious circumstances; police now believe that the son killed both.

Today, yet another murder. A mystery gunman shot and killed Shalema Gaskin outside Brookdale Hospital, as she took a smoke break during a visit to her young daughter Saniyah, who was being treated after an asthma attack. Police have no suspects, and no apparent leads; unlike West 58th Street, there are no surveillance cameras outside the entrance to the hospital where Gaskin was killed.

A large photo of Gaskin with her three daughters (and here the News does that annoying thing where they interfere with the photo to "circle" one of the people) is topped with red text that reads "'Angel' mom shot in cold blood." We don't actually know that, but anyway.

"NO MERCY," reads the big black text at the bottom of the page. If this hospital were called Mercy Hospital that might make sense, but again, since we know so little, it doesn't quite. "Executed while visiting daughter at Brooklyn hosp." reads the dek. 

NEWS HATHAWAY WITH PUNS: Anne Hathaway, star of The Devil Wears Prada (movie version), just yesterday praised on the front page for her flawless good looks (I thought the photos made the very beautiful and stylish actress look a bit like her own double at Madame Tussaud's but that's beside the point), had what is annoyingly still called a "wardrobe malfunction" that removed any doubt she was made of human flesh. In a tight, short dress she attempted to disembark from an S.U.V. as paparazzi flashed photos, and she flashed them. "THE DEVIL WEARS NADA" reads the headline.

The news is the fact that it happened, and that it happened is important because it is treated as news. Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton all have had this plot point in the narrative of their public lives. It's supposed to be the case that class acts like Hathaway don't; whether that's because it is believed by the tabloid press that it is trashy not to wear underwear is something I won't bother to scrutinize. (See Ricky Gervais' Andy Millman, if you like, on the "gutter press.")

But her way of handling it showed what she's made of: She immediately told Vanity Fair's Ingrid Sischy the whole story, complete with the requisite mortification. As the News says: "Well on her way to being a Meryl, [Hathaway] accidentally pulled the Britney." 

OBSERVATIONS: Again, the celebrity photo is a decent newsstand bid, but again, it's a trashy one, and kind of upsetting. If you're a tabloid like the News and it is necessary for you to run a little black bar over a part of the human anatomy, you have to seriously consider whether you are willing to look like the covers of some other magazines at the smoke shop. And as for the pun, it's not bad, but it was not irresistible.

What we're really left with are these two murders. In one case it's tragic, and incredibly sad, and there are no leads; in the other, it's tragic, but also kind of fascinating, and police are probably going to crack it. One case is brought to the attention of the public by the News, the other is already dominant in the public mind because it happened on West 58th Street. Its slimy non-sliminess aside, I think I know which emotional plea to the reader will resonate the most.

Winner: New York Post.