How can one describe appropriately the act of sitting down to read – if that’s even the proper term for the experience – the New York Post and Daily News, the two remaining big city tabloids in America’s biggest city? I am tempted toward the kind of hyperbole one finds in their pages. Reading the Post/News, I imagine, is like getting your head bashed in by a half-naked drunk on a corner who then apologizes by rubbing the sports section on your belly. It’s like having rats run up your leg to whisper in your ear that the cheese on Page 6 is all the truth ye need to know. It’s like finding a pubic hair in your teeth only to be told, “That’s dinner. Enjoy.” One feels that brain cells have been lost after only a few minutes with the tabloids, that the scope of reality has been reduced to a pinhead somewhere in a pile of New York hay (good luck finding it), that one has entered a funhouse of comic book casuistry where good and evil vie in the best-accoutered spandex for control – the world of the purely reductionist, the world of the line-toeing moral pedant drill sergeant who is at once willfully stupid, resentfully petty, painfully gimmicky, groaningly hamfisted, who tosses anvils from skyscrapers to kill a fly…while at the same time a voice, loud and strong and god-like, announces: “Dear reader, whatever prejudice and misconception you already have about government, Wall Street, the economy, education, race, religion, and your bad health, we will confirm. Just buy the paper!” The tabloids offer a wondrous kind of “news” in that one almost always feels less informed as a result of their reporting, truth per usual being hostage to the braying of headlines and the battle for circulation and the art of reducing complexity, nuance, ambiguity, contradiction – reality! – to column-inches that can be clutched in a child’s hand and are forgotten a day later. (The news never stops – except to drive out truth with the harpies of the “deadline”.)
So, for example, we have the primal scream, the ape-like pounding of chest and head, over the decision by the Obama Administration last Friday to try the alleged 9/11 conspirators in Manhattan federal court. The bloodlust of the past week in the Post and the News, taken as artifice and political propaganda, has something leadenly Al Qaeda-like about it in the execution but shows none of the mastery of the language. Osama bin Laden is in fact a mite bit smarter in his message: At least he has the courtesy to explain, in clear and precise words, that the Islamists have good reason to hate the United States government because of its endless meddling in the Middle East. (Such a long list: an embargo that kills half-a-million Iraqi children in the 1990s; invasion and occupation that chalks up an Iraqi death toll now approaching 700,000; the persistent blind-mole blowjobbery via bombs and ammo and aircraft handed over to the Israeli hegemon to keep Palestinians in concentration camps and ensure a regional arms race; the propping up of the oil-deranged criminal caliphates and fat-necked strongmen who would rather their good citizens, along with the Palestinians, be washed down the Nile in a flood of feces…the list running on and on.)
One can only imagine what the proud parochial minds at the Post/News would make of Islamic troops stomping around Brooklyn harassing our women and children, looking up their skirts for bombs and other things, or, worse, interrupting with small-arms fire the dinner hour at Elaine’s. The chief concern of the tabloids is that the 9/11 defendants, after they are slapped down with the guilty verdict about which we are so happily certain, might not be sent to death. If sentenced to death, the further worry is they might not get the full tickertape stoning on Broadway before heading to Golgotha and the deliciousness of crucifixion. As both the Daily News and Post report, presumably citing knowledgeable sources, the 9/11 conspirators are going “straight to hell.” (Nota bene: God, hell, heaven, satan, evil, evil and evil – these make an everyday appearance as editorial compass points at the tabloids, in a witchy redneck amalgam of Irish/Italian Catholic brimstone, with Jewish resentment thrown into the mix over Israel’s not being declared greatest country ever, forever.)
The message is that the defendants must be killed, as quickly as possible and with as much expedience as will allow when the legalities are pushed under the rug. Why offer a fair trial to the Al Qaeda pigfuckers? Well, what’s the point of a trial at all if it is not fair? Otherwise, we’re on a fast-track to a Stalinist show trial. It’s an issue of great moral import as to our real intentions, a legal-philosophical question so key, so pertinent, so totally newsworthy – that it’s lost in the “coverage” of the painted whirligig called the “news.”
Speaking of unfair trials: my own revelation about the creeps who “edit and report” at the Post and the News came about while investigating a 2003 murder story that the tabloids got wrong from day one, as is their wont (there is not the same sense of accomplishment getting it wrong a day late). The errors of fact, the aspersions cast wide and thoughtlessly, the pall of emotionalism that swallowed the words on the page, heaped one after another like poison water balloons from a rooftop, arguably helped put an innocent man in prison. The case, which I wrote about for Vanity Fair, was what the tabloids headlined, with the usual telegraphic talent, “The Grid-Kid Slay,” as the victim was a high school football star gunned down in cold blood on a Brooklyn street. The News and Post cried out for the district attorney to find the killer, but for a year no perp turned up to walk for the cameras. How could this be? cried the tabloids. The killer is loose! He must be found! Anyone will do!
A 20-year-old named John Giuca, who hosted the football player at a house party just hours before his murder, was soon picked up by the DA’s detectives, and the leaks went out from the DA’s office to the chopping block at the tabloids. Giuca was no longer simply a young guy who threw a party and who the DA had little real evidence against. He was now head of a street gang, the “Ghetto Mafia,” arch-fiend, octopus-armed director of events that led to the murder (dispatching his henchman to kill the victim). The always execrable Andrea Peyser, the Post pundit who (my sources tell me) sprays ammonia in her eyes to start the day, all but declared Giuca guilty, and though she was kind enough to refer to him as a “skinny punk,” she couldn’t even report out his name correctly: Peyser wrote him up as “Guica,” and so did just about every one of the scores of articles about the case in the Post – so much for fact-checking.
John Giuca, who was studying to be a detective, was now beyond redemption; he was even declared the “Tony Soprano” of Brooklyn. The News and the Post pounced on whatever they could find: Giuca was once arrested for drug dealing, they reported, and he had once fired a gun in the air. They were fed blindly at the trough by the DA’s office, because none of it was true. “I hated those fucking reporters,” John Giuca’s mother, Doreen Giuliano, told me. “The drugs were one bag of pot and one pill that was found on his friend – not even on John! So there’s five guys – what, were they all gonna break the pill apart and sell it?” And the gun charge? Giuca was lighting firecrackers and got written up for it when he was 17 years old. After his arrest for the murder of the football player, “unnamed witnesses,” produced by the DA’s office, came forward to attest that the fireworks were pistols. “These assholes at the Post,” said Doreen. “They never even checked the facts. They took the DA’s spin on it whole-hog and now John is a drug dealer and a gun-wielding thug.”
Henceforth, Doreen would not believe another word she read in the Daily News or the New York Post. Her son was convicted – in part because several of the jurors were influenced by the wonderful reportage in the tabloids – and is today serving 25 years to life. But heck: this is all a moot point. The readers elsewhere don’t seem to believe the words either. The Post dropped its circulation by 200,000 over the last twelve months, the Daily News declined by 250,000 – statistics in the ongoing tragic death throes of the American newspaper. In the case of the last of New York’s tabloids, since we know enough about how the dimwits have driven into the gutter once great papers, it’s a senescence long overdue.
CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM, a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY, is writing a book about secessionist groups in the US. You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or see more of his work at christopherketcham.com.
Christopher Ketcham is the author of “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West” (Viking-Penguin). He can be reached at email@example.com.