10:49 am Dec. 31, 2012
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?
BENHGAZISM: It was less than two weeks ago that the New York Post accused Hillary Clinton of malingering, seeking intentionally to avoid testifying before Congress on the events of Sept. 11 this year when the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya was attacked.
The paper was in an exquisite position, to be sure: Often enough the editorial voice takes its cues from some of the crazier precincts of the right-wing web. But it's a New York City paper, too, with ties to and, it believes, an audience among Manhattan's smart set not generally comfortable with the rantings of Tea Partiers in Congress.
The paper went crazy on Benghazi, largely putting former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice in its sights and leaving Hillary Clinton, whose appearances in the pages of the Post lately have almost seemed to be accompanied by solemn trumpet blares, out of it. But on Sept. 18, the paper was caught between its recent tendency to flatter Clinton and its insane positioning on the Benghazi attack and the Obama administration's handling of it.
So when it was announced that Clinton would not be testifying, the Post editorial board put together an incredulous editorial under the headline "Hillary Clinton's head fake," in which the editors mockingly reproduced the Secretary's reason for not appearing: "Clinton’s story beggars belief: While traveling in Europe, she contracted a stomach virus . . . which made her dehydrated . . . which made her faint at home . . . which caused her to fall and hit her head . . . which gave her a nasty concussion."
But it's the Post that has discovered a blockage somewhere on the way to its own brain and reversed itself with a thoroughly respectful front page, now that that concussion appears to have caused a blood clot that has Clinton admitted and under observation at New York Presbyterian.
Where the old editorial chided, the new front-page news story is happy to take "paper press releases" from Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines, and to report straightforwardly: "Clinton was suffering from a stomach virus earlier this month whe she fainted an d hit her head, causing the concussion, while alone at her home. Dotors said she was dehydrated at the time." And better yet: "Cynics in the media and in Congress sneered that Clinton was faking the concussion to avoid testimony about the attack," quoting on-the-way-out Florida Republican congressman Allen West, as well as John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador who served as foreign policy adviser to the failed Mitt Romney presidential campaign.
But not its own editorial board.
"HILLARY CRISIS" reads the big white text; "Hospitalized in NYC with blood clot." There's a picture of Clinton—not a lovely one, but not the type the paper uses when it's assaulting her.
THE YEAR OF SANDY HOOK: The News gives its front page on a New Year's Eve to its "Person of the Year" award. The paper solicits letters and suggestions from readers but its selection process isn't obvious. And there doesn't seem to be any particular award designated by the paper besides this one day of front-page coverage.
Inside, the paper goes to lengths to shout out to other "nominees" with large contingents in the News' inbox, from fallen cops and firefighters to various heroes of Hurricane Sandy, but the paper has settled on the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, survivors and murder victims alike, who tried to save kids' lives when the shooting spree touched off what is likely the year's most devastating tragedy. Denis Hamill's accompanying column is a little purple, and not entirely inappropriately so. The 12 people named by the News are all pictured in the paper, with a special central position given to a silhouette of Victoria Soto, who hurried students into closets and then put herself between the shooter and a group of her kids in an attempt to take bullets for them. She died of multiple gunshot wounds.
OBSERVATIONS: Well, we're not assessing the Post's Dec. 18 issue today, so the real question is what do people want to pick up on the newsstand on a chilly New Year's Eve morning—a full page of Hillary Clinton illness (which may or may not be serious)? Or a year-ender that is an emotional but finally a feel-good story of heroism? I think the answer's pretty clear—and also that the Post wouldn't have had to sacrifice its front page to clean up a political mess if it hadn't made the mess in the first place.
WINNER: Daily News.