Wood War! Who Wins Today’s Grabby Tabloid Battle For Your Eyeballs?

Daily News: Having spent yesterday’s cover heralding the arrest of Philip Markoff in the “Craigslist Murder,” the News today has

Daily News: Having spent yesterday’s cover heralding the arrest of Philip Markoff in the “Craigslist Murder,” the News today has to up the ante on its cover. The tabloids had reason to expect some developments: Mr. Markoff’s arraignment would involve a certain amount of public testimony about what evidence police had of Mr. Markoff’s guilt, and a plea could be expected from the defense. What’s more, this investigation started out pretty leaky; it’s a question of your crime reporting staff having more or less juice with Boston police and the Suffolk County, Mass. district attorney’s office. Let’s take a look at the total universe of “new” developments in the case the Daily News had at its disposal: There are interviews with people who knew him. These famously yield questionable results though. Somewhat predictably, some were shocked, and this is good because it advances the peculiarity of the story: Such a preppy, successful young man! And also very tech-savvy: he set up a new email account to contact his victim, Julia Brisman, a masseuse who advertised on Craigslist. But then there is the other side: He was a creep, who had “problems” with the unwhite people and with women, and maybe even didn’t so much seek out real girlfriends. But he is engaged to be married to a very pretty New Jersey girl, and also his electronic trail played a big part in his apprehension. What to do with all of this paradoxical information? The News finds its way out with a big picture of the cute-looking kid in his rumpled button-down blue and some pretty small type that reads: “CRAIGSLIST SUSPECT’S VIOLENT TRAIL.” What the reader is given to expect is a police procedural that follows the narrative of the suspect’s alleged crime spree, which included not just the “Craigslist murder” but at least one other count of armed robbery with more possibly to come. Fair enough!

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But most of the front page of the News this morning is devoted to a “Juan Gonzalez EXCLUSIVE.” Much has been said in the past about what constitutes an exclusive. For instance, this morning I can exclusively reveal that my allergies are acting up. You could make an entire failing newspaper out of things you are the only news source to have bothered with. And while Juan Gonzalez, who won a Pulitzer in 2007 for his crusading investigative reporting about the bad air and illnesses that resulted from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has solid credentials as an investigative reporter, this “exclusive” seems like it was mostly a case of being tipped off to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court last week. That said, it’s a great story: “FUROR OVER 600G PASTOR: Riverside Church group sues to halt rev’s huge salary & perks.” If anything the story is undersold slightly: you may remember the case of Friar Tuck, the Staten Island minister who embezzled money from his congregation to get cosmetic surgery. This is much, much bigger. First of all, Riverside Church is a huge, influential pulpit, and a huge Gothic church built with Rockefeller money. If the church’s influence in politics is less famous than that of, say, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, it’s probably just because the left-of-center politics of the congregation (and its racial diversity) make it less of an obvious choice for politicians putting themselves explicitly before African American voters. But make no mistake: this is a huge church, and the man they’ve chosen as pastor, Brad Braxton, is about to enjoy one of the most influential Protestant positions in the country. It seems that while the congregation approved of his installation as pastor, though, the list of perks that make up his rather lavish compensation package were available only to a select few. This congregation has also seen turmoil in recent days; it’s partly a Baptist denomination, and the struggles within the Baptist church to reconcile a “peace-and-justice” package with the increasingly conservative religious mores of much of the Baptist flock are documented. Mr. Gonzalez may have stumbled onto just another internecine battle among constituents of the congregation, but it’s hard to judge. At any rate, to return to Friar Tuck: Unlike his parish on Staten Island, this congregation matters as a city institution. And in contrast to his rather meager and pathetic grift, this “executive compensation” struggle involves a real number, and comes at a time when high salaries and lavish compensation (he gets an $11,500 monthly housing stipend, and a maid!) are not popular with the working and middle classes of any political persuasion.

The New York Post: All is quiet, for now, on the developing story of the “SPITE WEDDING” the Post brought us yesterday. Will Sandrina bear Harold’s child after all? Did Harold sleep with his old pool-installation boss? The Post no doubt will stay on top of this important story, but in the meantime there are all the incremental developments in the Craigslist Murder which today, suddenly, demand front-page treatment. “KILLER’S SECRET LIFE: Chilling new portrait of Craigslist suspect” is what we’ve got. A bit of the teaser text is helpful: “… preppy med student by day, prostitute stalker and gambler by night, authorities have revealed.” And more: “his stunned fiancée stood by her man.” A “double life” trope is a great way to get past the paradoxes of a personality we haven’t had much time to analyze, but the “chilling new portrait” will not be new—or even complete— to anybody who has been following this story on the Internet. Mr. Markoff’s “electronic trail” includes a wedding web site with possibly more page inventory than this site, a facebook account, and more. But the Post takes an old-fashioned reporting approach, talking to people who knew him, setting up a stringer outside his fiancées house to describe a few hours of comings and goings there. Perhaps most fascinating in all of this is the e-mail his fiancée, Megan Mcallister, sent to the Boston Herald: “‘He is intelligent, loyal and the best fiancé a woman could ask for,’ McAllister said in an e-mail to the Boston Herald. ‘Unfortunately, the Boston police try to make money out of these things.'”

Now, this fiancée angle is pretty fascinating actually. Because it’s not actually clear how much of a secret Mr. Markoff’s gambling ways were—evidence marshaled by the Post and others for his gambling predilections included reference to his high-school yearbook—we’re more interested in the fact that his fiancée was caught with him in a car on the way to Foxwoods than we are in the fact that Foxwoods was their destination. How serious can this double life have been if, once exploded, his fiancée appears to be planning to go forward with the wedding? The Post is edifying on these details on the inside pages, moreso than the News, but in going for a Day 2 angle, what about a picture of the killer and his fiancée, with an inset mugshot, with a “Stand By Your Man” declaration of some type on the front?

This is normally something the Post does handily, as in the refer at the top of the page to the story of Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, complete with courtroom sketch (shorthand: Courtroom Drama inside! and a good reason not to use a real photo.) “Now the pirate cries,” reads the text, referring to the 15-year-old’s unaccountable smile as he was perp-walked Monday. Happily for all of us, “a judge wiped a grin off his face and left him in tears, realizing he faces life in the brig.” This is the kind of gallows we all thrill to stand around. Go, Post!

And lest she be relegated to a footnote, the Post also allows us a glimpse into the psychosexual world of Lindsay Lohan: “Lindsay’s new lovers” flags a Page Six item (also widely read yesterday on the Internet) documenting her rehabilitation: the “faux lesbian” is “drowning her sorrows” over her break-up with Samantha Ronson in a “sea of men.” As Tina Brown would say: V. Hot!

General observations: We may think the Post could have done better on the Craigslist Murder, but the News was just a bore on the topic. And while Lindsay Lohan and pirates are both topics already rode hard and put away wet, it’s hard to imagine Juan Gonzalez’s piece about Riverside Church profits much from the huge display it got on the front of the News. Was the News afraid to go big for a second day in a row on the Craigslist Murder story? Because that’s just silly. We’d love to penalize the Post today for underplaying the Craigslist Murder story yesterday, but yesterday’s Post is not the one sitting right next to today’s News on the newsstand. In the Wood War, every day starts a clean slate.

Winner: The New York Post

Wood War! Who Wins Today’s Grabby Tabloid Battle For Your Eyeballs?