Dusted by a Manti Te’o break, the ‘Post’ goes back to Hillary the Harridan

Today's tabloids, Jan. 24, 2013. ()
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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 VOICE: Well it's not hard to tell what the winning tabloid front-page story is today. The Daily News breaks—or at least partly breaks—the biggest logjam in our journey to understand the fake-girlfriend scandal swirling around Notre Dame football star and putative N.F.L. top draft-pick Manti Te'o, with a little deft maneuvering around a lawyer in the case whom the News has dealt with before.

A step back: Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an old friend of Te'o who was fingered as the probable fabricator of the persona of Lennay Kekua, Te'o's fake girlfriend, has been quiet since the scandal broke on Deadspin earlier this month, but he has not been without representation. He's hired L.A. lawyer Milton Grimes, who as the News notes is "best known for helping Rodney King win a multimillion-dollar judgment against the city of Los Angeles."

The presence of Grimes on the scene radically changed the playing field for reporters covering the story, of course; Notre Dame and Te'o's family have been quick tying up loose ends and controlling access to the developing story, but Tuiasosopo's interests aren't necessarily Notre Dame's, and Grimes has his own relationships with the media.

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Grimes gives an exclusive interview to the News that answers the question hundreds of hours of logged phone calls between Te'o and Kekua raised: Who was on the other end of the line all that time? And the answer also sheds a still-dim but growing-stronger light on another question: why?

Te'o "thought it was a female he was talking with," Grimes said. "It was Ronaiah as Lennay."

Could Tuisasosopo really pull such a thing off? Well, he's a singer and performer, after all. "Come on, Hollywood does it all the time," Grimes said. So why'd he do it? Now we're getting close: “It was establishing a communication with someone. ... It was a person with a troubled existence trying to reach out and communicate and have a relationship. I wouldn’t describe his issues at this time.”

There's one way in which all of this, as monumentally embarrassing as it must be to Te'o, actually squares nicely with the Notre Dame line. Nothing about this forthcoming confession from Tuisasosopo contradicts Te'o's story, after all, that he was fooled. And it is highly unlikely, even if Tuisasosopo said that the ruse was for the public and he really talked for 500 hours with Te'o himself, without faking a voice, that the story between the two of them can be broken down further. In other words, the biggest bombshell, and the first piece of the puzzle that actually seems to bring the question of sexual identity into the story, is also the firmest possible defense of Te'o's position that he was ignorant of the scam.

So, to the front: Actually it's only a half page! "OH, MAN!" is the triumphant, big black text. "Dude talked like a lady to fool star: lawyer." The pictures are well chosen: On the left, a silhouette of Te'o that is very possibly just a mouth-breathing off-camera sideline moment while watching a game but which looks like shock when taken out of context. On the right, a silhouette of Tuisasosopo looking at the camera, his neck draped in a red and gold striped scarf. Above in red: "EXCLUSIVE: Te'o love calls were with a guy."

PILLORY: The News leaves a little space up top for its day story about Hillary Clinton's testimony yesterday on the Benghazi raid. Unlike most outlets, there's not much of an implicit take in the display text: "WHO THE HIL DID THIS?" doesn't make much sense one way or another. It's a profile of Clinton looking angry.

It's about what the piece deserves, unless you are the New York Post, which is increasingly losing its bearings in politics. Fred Dicker's relationship with the governor is cracking over gun control and the governor's late "liberal turn," and the paper's editorial board seemed to raft over the falls with the right-wing blogosphere and the nuttier elements of the G.O.P. in Congress with Hillary Clinton, accusing her of faking illness to avoid an earlier confrontation over the Benghazi affair, before pretending none of it happened.

The paper spent half its space the day after the inauguration saying Obama was an unpopular president and put Beyonce Knowles on its front page instead, only to have to do it again the next day when it became clear the singer had lip-synched her performance.

In short, the Post is acting on behalf of the losers of American politics. There is nothing wrong with that! Except that it is not where the Post historically likes to be, and I don't think it's being undertaken with self-knowledge, or the awareness of how marginal it all looks.

Today's front is exclusively devoted to Clinton's testimony.

"NO WONDER BILL'S AFRAID," the white text reads over a photo of Clinton's table-punching moment. "Hillary explodes with rage at Benghazi hearing."

The picture of Bill Clinton inset on the lower left is a bit like McCauley Culkin's promotional photos for Home Alone. This is the Clinton vein the Post wisely stopped tapping during Clinton's 2008 presidential bid: the harridan who drove her husband to tawdry affairs while enjoying the perks of being a queen of the coastal elite. It's worth noting that Clinton's reinvention as a Washington-wife paper-doll during the Clinton administration and her national campaigns, now reversed since she's not in electoral politics (with the big glasses, the longer hair and the hairbands she almost looks like some of those old photos of her at Wesleyan in the 1960s) coincided with the Post's period of loving the former first lady.

CALL ME SUGAR BABY: We only need to spend a second on "GRAMPS' VAMPS," the story on the upper left of the News that also features a photo from a Daily News photo shoot of a young co-ed who dates older men for money to fund her career and lifestyle. She's kind of pretty? I mean she's not a model. Two things: A screen shot of the website that matches "sugar babies" and "sugar daddies" also has a list of the dozens of outlets that have fallen for their P.R. pitch and written features off them; another thing to remember in the tabloids is that when a trend story is accompanied by a fashiony photo shoot of one of the protagonists, it's probably a heaping pile of B.S. (For reference, see the Post's spread on the model Nicki Ghazian, the "Persian Barbie," who declared her desire to have random sex before the Mayan apocalypse. Everybody's doin' it, see!)

OBSERVATIONS: Well this is an easy one. I would mention that breaking an exclusive story isn't always a sure winner, if the competitor's take on a wide-release story is funny or clever or surprising enough, but it's unnecessary since the Post's treatment of the Clinton testimony is not funny, clever or surprising. They got dusted, basically. Everyone's following the News story—they're big winners not just against the Post but against the entire rest of the media today. Now, News, how about a big thank you to Counselor Grimes?

WINNER: Daily News.