Off the Record

Whatever the tabloids find under their trees Christmas morning, it can’t possibly be as fun to unwrap as Bernard Kerik was. One minute, the story of the ex-police boss and ever-so-brief Homeland Security nominee was about alleged ho-hum procedural scandals-Social Security withholding problems, apparent conflicts of interest. The next, the allegations were about dueling mistresses, a secret Battery Park City love nest and purported mob ties.

Who could resist? “KERIK’S AFFAIRS” howled the front page on the New York Post.

Oh, wait. That was an imaginary Post, drawn by the paper’s Page Six cartoonist, Sean Delonas. In Mr. Delonas’ Dec. 14 panel, the disgraced ex-commish slumps on a barstool as a bartender looks up from the screaming tabloid to say, “You probably would’ve done better being nominated during the Clinton Administration.”

It was a neat jujitsu move by Mr. Delonas, turning the reported philandering of a Rudy Giuliani protégé into an attack on Bill Clinton. But his bosses had done him one better: The Monday Post had kept Kerik off the cover entirely, in favor of a photo of Mr. Clinton.

In the Post’s world, the big story of the week was not Mr. Kerik’s meltdown, but the possible involvement of Clinton-pardoned fugitive Marc Rich in the United Nations oil-for-food imbroglio. Under a bright red “Post World Exclusive” badge, the paper reported that the shady Mr. Rich had been one of the program’s “non-end users” who had-in conjunction with a New York oil trader-“set up a series of companies in Liechtenstein and other countries that they used to put together deals.”

Liechtenstein?

Meanwhile, the Daily News was running with “BERNIE AND THE BEAUTY,” complete with tales of “passionate liaisons.”

“I know which story I would prefer to have, big time,” said Daily News editorial director Martin Dunn.

Given the choice of the two exclusives, the rest of the press seemed to go with the love nest. A Tuesday Nexis search found papers as far away as Australia citing the Daily News’ coverage of Mr. Kerik; the only papers to write about the Post and Mr. Rich were the Washington Times and the Daily News-the latter making fun of its rival’s scoop.

But the Post-the paper that back in the pre-9/11 world had reported on the “emotional problems” of Judith Nathan’s teenage daughter-kept refusing to wallow in Mr. Kerik’s disgrace. On page 11, it acknowledged the scandal with a piece describing how the “emotional” Mr. Kerik had “begged forgiveness from everyone in sight.” An accompanying piece offered the optimistic headline “Egg-on-face Rudy still in Bush’s good graces.”

Through a spokesperson, Post editor Col Allan declined to comment on the decision to keep Mr. Kerik off the front page, or on his cartoonist’s apparent decision that Mr. Kerik was page-1 material. Mr. Delonas didn’t return a phone message.

In other holiday news, imaginary-falafel-wielding pundit Bill O’Reilly used his syndicated column, printed in Monday’s Daily News, to warn Americans of a creeping menace. “Once again,” the pugnacious TV host wrote, “Christmas is under siege by the growing forces of secularism.”

Mr. O’Reilly cited a frightening chain of evidence of the suppression of Christmas, including Mayor Bloomberg’s claim “that the lighted tree outside City Hall is not a Christmas tree, it’s a holiday tree. (What holiday, Mr. Mayor?)”

Whatsamatter, Mayor Bloomberg … Jesus not good enough for ya?

The Mayor, it seems, is doing the bidding of a cabal that Mr. O’Reilly describes as a “well-organized movement to wipe out any display of organized religion from the public arena.” This “secular-progressive movement,” Mr. O’Reilly explains, is bent on eliminating references to religion so as to clear the way for “gay marriage, partial birth abortion, legalized narcotics, [and] euthanasia.”

“It has happened in Canada,” Mr. O’Reilly wrote. ” …. The Canadian model is what progressive Americans are shooting for.”

Can it be? Has our snowy neighbor really repudiated Christmas? It seems like a waste of frosted evergreens.

“We’re certainly not abolishing Christmas,” said Amber Authier, an events supervisor for the city of Toronto.

In fact, the putatively Grinchy people of Toronto can celebrate their gay marriages around an official municipal Christmas tree, sponsored by the Toronto Star. At its lighting, the Saint Michael’s Choir School sang a medley of seasonal music-including the “religious music” that Mr. O’Reilly described as an endangered medium.

“We had a number of popular artists that also did Christmas carols,” Ms. Authier said. According to a schedule provided by Ms. Authier, the festivities included “O Holy Night,” sung by Shaye, and “Silent Night,” done by Jully Black.

Off the Record