TABLOIDED: The Mourning After Heath Ledger


Today marks the second day of round-the-clock Heath Ledger death coverage, and both papers again chose large, banner headlines for their front pages. (We can’t say that they dedicate all their front-page real estate to the story since the Daily News has to remind us that there’s some important sporting event in the next few weeks.)

This is the point in the coverage where the initial shock of the actor’s sudden demise wears off, and the tabs become obsessed with timelines, mysterious characters on the fringe of the incident and the closest person they have to a grieving widow: Ledger’s ex-fiancée Michelle Williams.

The Post and the Daily News both highlight the panicked calls masseuse Diane Lee Wolozin made to Mary-Kate Olsen when she and housekeeper Teresa Solomon found Ledger’s body on Tuesday afternoon. Apparently Wolozin called Olsen before dialing 911. The Post notes Wolozin had a “mutual relationship” with Ledger and Olsen. Is that some fancy way of saying they were both her clients?

Blurry photos of a grieving Williams appear in each paper, with the Daily News highlighting the couple’s doomed relationship and the Post going one step further with a frankly offensive column by Andrea Peyser about how the couple was “the best and worst thing for Brooklyn.” Apparently the stars’ support of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, an organization that, according to Peyser, was “dedicated to running the planned Nets basketball arena out of Brooklyn.” She also tells of walking into a drugstore and a clerk spontaneously telling her that he sold Ledger some pseudoephedrine, “a drug that has the habit of keeping [Peyser] up all night.” Wow, that’s some groundbreaking reporting there. I hope someone tells of my attempts to purchase some Advil Cold & Sinus when I shuffle off this mortal coil.

My prediction for tomorrow? Barring any truly shocking news breaks about Ledger’s death, there will be three stories on each tabs’ front page, but Ledger will still take up the most real estate. The coverage will get more lurid tomorrow. Look for more quotes from “inside sources” and hangers-on who claim to have been friends with Ledger or Williams.

While the News and Post have had similar tactics in their reporting of the Ledger story, they still have a number of differences. Two other stories that broke this week illustrate these nuances of coverage: the sentencing of an NYPD officer who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the drunk-driving death of a fellow cop and the destruction of a border between Gaza and Egypt by Hamas.

The Post goes all-out in its luridness in both stories. “FAINTING KILLER COP IS GUILTY” reads the page-9 headline for the story of 23-year-old police rookie Danielle Baymack. Baymack’s guilty plea in the drunk-driving case will give her six months in jail and five years probation for her Sept. 2006 crash in which Officer Marlene Rivera, Baymack’s passenger, was killed when the car crashed in Long Island. Baymack attempted to blame the bartender at the club for serving her excessive amounts of alcohol. Next to a picture of a crying Baymack and above a photo of Rivera in uniform is a picture of Baymack holding a tallboy can of Bud Light. The Post’s caption notes that Baymack is a “hard drinker.” The News features only a photo of the bawling Baymack and the headline notes, “Ex-cop will have 6 mos. to dry tears in pal’s death.” It’s not subtle by any means, but compared to the Post, the story is downright somber.

The Gaza story spreads two pages of the Post with the banner headline “WILD GAZA ‘EXODUS’” and a subhead “Shop spree in Egypt as thugs blast border wall.” Members of Hamas blew up a 40-foot barricade between Gaza and Egypt yesterday, and approximately 350,000 Palestinians crossed the border to get supplies that they have not been able to get since Israel imposed a blockade on cargo shipments in Gaza.

Israeli-Palestinian issues are tumultuous on their best days, so it is understandable that there is going to passionate rhetoric whenever something like this happens. The Post, however, begins with inflammatory language in the lead and never lets up, referring to “masked Hamas goons.” The Daily News, running an AP story, much more subtly refers to the “goons” as “militants.”

It’s not just the inflammatory language that is striking. The “othering” of the people in Gaza is quite blatant as well. Both stories feature a photo of a man near the broken fence. He is leading a goat in one hand and carrying a box under his other arm. This contrast of old vs. new is in effect throughout the reporting, noting that Palestinians were buying livestock and TV sets and cell phones. The photos subconsciously assure the reader that “they are not like us.” The Post goes one step further with a photo of the crowd and the pun, “Hordes Hoard” in the caption. There is something sinister about this photograph, especially referring to the crowd as “a tide of Gazans.” It’s like they’re not even people.

And that is something that’s easy to forget at times when you’re reading these salacious stories: they’re all about people. Except for the ones about cute animals.


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