TABLOIDED: Watching the Watchdogs


Well, I was partially correct in my front-page predictions yesterday. There were three front-page stories, but they were spread out over both papers. The Post continues its all-Heath-Ledger coverage with a front-page devoted to Mary-Kate Olsen’s mysterious role in the events, and the Daily News forgoes Ledger altogether for the Giants and an exclusive about a five-year-old who was handcuffed by school safety officers and sent to the psych ward.

There are several of these weird and outrageous stories in the news today, and they could be considered what the tabloids do best. If the function of journalism is to be a watchdog on government and society, then articles about kindergarten kids in handcuffs justify the 75 cents I drop each morning on these publications. (It sure as hell isn’t justified by any of the celebrity coverage. That’s the stuff that makes me take what friends refer to as a “Karen Silkwood shower” every morning.)

Five-year-old Dennis Rivera has attention deficit disorder, speech problems and asthma. Last week, he threw a tantrum in his Queens kindergarten classroom. The boy was taken to the principal’s office, where he continued to act out. Then, instead of calling Rivera’s parents, safety officers cuffed him and then took him to the hospital for a psychological evaluation. School officials say that Rivera had punched an assistant principal the day before the incident and previously had broken glass in an office door. Problem child, helpless victim, or both? It should be interesting to see how the News follows this story.

British tourist Yvonne Bray got more than she bargained for on a recent trip to New York with her two teenage daughters. The News reports Bray came down with pneumonia while in town, and her 13- and 15-year-old daughters were placed in a Manhattan shelter by the Administration for Children’s Services. The girls posed for mug shots and were asked if they belonged to any gangs. Older sister Gemma quipped, “I’m a member of the Appledore Library.”

Sometimes abuses of power and celebrity combine to make wonderful, weird stories. Take the case of Kimora Lee Simmon’s ill-gotten parking placard. The Post nabbed the diva’s driver using his old Department of Corrections parking placard while Simmons and beau Djimon Hounsou shopped at Barney’s. But don’t worry. Simmons won’t face any punishment and the unidentified officer will probably only face “internal discipline” for his department-approved moonlighting shenanigans.

In “score one for the little guy” news, 101-year-old Rose Morat testified against her mugger in court yesterday. Morat was mugged last year as she left her Queens apartment building to go to church. Unfortunately, as both papers report, Morat had some trouble identifying her attacker. The Daily News left it at that, while the Post noted Morat asked, “You mean he’s actually here?” and then pointed at accused mugger Jack Rhodes and a female Post reporter.

The watchdog function of the press is especially important in an election year, and the New York Times endorsement of John McCain in the state primary has the Daily News continuing its love affair with Giuliani, as columnist Michael Goodwin opines the liberal rag’s hatred of the former mayor who cleaned up this city will only win Rudy sympathy votes. Maybe the photo of Rudy looking clueless opposite the column on page 9 undermines that idea.

The other big election story right now is Bill Clinton’s insistence that his lashing out at the press and Barack Obama is because of his deep love for his wife. The News dubs it “BUBBA’S LOVE TIRADE” while the Post adds a wacky “WJC + HRC” graphic to its coverage, complete with disembodied heads of Bill and Hill inside a heart. (Good pun on Charles Hurt’s column below the story: “Bubba, toil & trouble!”)

And finally, we have another cute kitty story in the News. Apparently little Georgia was spayed on Tuesday afternoon and she jumped out of her carrier on the platform of the 59th Street Station onto the tracks. Owner Ashley Phillips isn’t optimistic about Georgia’s chances of coming back to her, but MTA officials are looking for her. And yes, this story shows up on page 5 of the News while Mayor Bloomberg’s defense of hiring thousands of workers despite a hiring freeze is on page 6. Sure, it was probably a layout issue, but quirky animal stories usually belong a little further back. Of course, it’s been a rough week, so maybe we do need to see some cute kitty cats. TGIF.


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