WOOD WAR: 05.12.09

Daily News: The problem with taking on a crusade in a daily newspaper is that every cover placement you give

Daily News: The problem with taking on a crusade in a daily newspaper is that every cover placement you give an article in the series has to warrant that placement, or else you risk losing your audience: people don't like to feel like an important story is being milked. Today the Daily News fronts the story of Jennifer Ronca, who, it turns out, was the patient left hanging in the operating room under anesthesia by two of “New York's highest-paid” doctors, who were no-shows at a scheduled brain operation. Her story was the first in the series of investigative pieces the News went after about Drs. Paolo Bolognese and Thomas Milhorat of North Shore University Hospital, neurosurgeons specializing in a rare condition who are getting less-than-rave reviews from some of their patients. Ms. Ronca's case opened the series, and now she steps forward to tell her tale. But more disturbing was yesterday's report of a lawsuit claiming the doctors performed unnecessary and unconventional surgeries on a four-year-old girl. As many as twelve lawsuits based on similar allegations are reportedly in the works. Excuse us for a moment: this business sometimes requires editors to have some conversations they would prefer externs not to overhear. But as harrowing as it must have been for Ms. Ronca to schedule this appointment, travel to Long Island, undergo prep, which included traction, and anesthesia, only to have to reschedule her surgery, there's a bit of anticlimax here: her complaint seems significantly less compelling than the later complaints of unnecessary brain surgeries performed on a toddler. And in this case, since the details of the case were already reported, today's story only identifies the victim and gives her the opportunity to describe what happened. It's certainly an advance: we're not saying that this story wasn't important to publish today. But with as many as eleven more lawsuits coming up, it seems there will be plenty of opportunities for the News to front its Doctors Doom. Maybe today wasn't one of those opportunities? “SCANDAL OF BRAIN DOCS” reads the legend in knockout on red at the top of the page. Then, in larger type, “They all lied to me. I was abandoned in the OR.”

Of course, this wasn't the only story on the News' front page: “GOTTI HOME A-LOAN” reads the largest type on the page (in a smaller box) at the bottom. Hm. So, what's happening here? Something about a Gotti, a home, and a loan; and a pun on “Home Alone,” a movie about a kid whose parents accidentally leave him unattended to deal with burglars. Is it supposed to sound like "Got a home loan" too? Why? Tell us what we're missing. After all, the News resorts to a subhead to do it: “The don's daughter faces eviction over 650G owed on house.”

The New York Post: The Post makes a meal out of the News' Gotti-snack this morning, taking over the entire front page with the news of Ms. Gotti's possible loss of the Long Island mansion that was the setting for the terrible A&E reality series, Growing Up Gotti in the early aughts. The Post has a long history of punning on the Gotti name: today's entry is “GOTTI GO!” Next: “Foreclosure whacks Don's daughter.” The Post also has a long history of gloating over Ms. Gotti's misfortunes. Somewhere in the mists of editorial strategies past, Post managing editor Col Allan was brought in from down under to run the paper, and installed Victoria Gotti, who had turned herself into a romance-mystery novelist, as a columnist (at Jack Newfield's old desk!). The stunt immediately seemed like a bid for the Post to mitigate its Manhattan-centric, elitist practice of the tabloid form. But somehow, after Sept. 11, the presence of people like Ms. Gotti in the Post stable made the paper look a little like the “drunk at the funeral,” in the words of former New York columnist and perpetual Rupert antagonist Michael Wolff. The paper sobered up again, and Andrea Peyser became the columnist voice that reflected the strange elitist-populist outrage of the new Post. Also, there was a bit of a fracas between Harper Collins (the Post's book-publishing sister in the News Corp. stable) when Ms. Gotti failed to deliver her book on time. She'd risen pretty high in the American Media stable under Bonnie Fuller and David Pecker at that time, and her reality show was starting to take off. No mention of any of this in today's story! We're also a little baffled about the news value of this piece. A Google News search will show you that Ms. Gotti's relationship to her mortgage bankers has deteriorated over the years in a slow burn. This latest decision, a reversal of a lower-court decision that sought to give Ms. Gotti more time to repair her relationship with her creditors, seems likely to be the fatal blow in her battle to keep that ridiculous mansion; but then again, we've thought that before, too. Anyway! Inside headline: “NOW SHE'S EVICT-ORIA GOTTI.” Remember when John Gotti Sr. was pretending to be senile? The headline back then was, “I FORGOTTI!” So kudos for finding a pun on the lady's first name.

General observations: We're a little stumped today. Our journalistic instincts generally require us to reward the News for pursuing its own crusading agendas on local institutions, but we're a little pressed to set too much store by today's development in the BRAIN DOCS scandal. Will readers be pulled in simply by the fact that the story feels so personal? Maybe. The fact that the Victoria Gotti story strikes us as pretty flimsy indicts both front pages, though arguably it slants against the News only in proportion to the amount of space it was given there. On the other hand: “HOME A-LOAN”? Terrible, just terrible. The Post, lacking a BRAIN DOCS scandal, gives the whole page to a dumb story. A dumb but pretty story, and a bit of a rubbernecky story. Perhaps a bit of an agenda is why the story squeezed everything else off the page? Who cares about Victoria Gotti as much as News Corp. does? Not clear. But the competition isn't offering much more.

Winner: The New York Post.

WOOD WAR: 05.12.09