The Spitzer Sex Scandal in the Papers


Thank God for the tabloids. Thank God New York is not just a single newspaper town like most American cities. And when the Governor of the State of New York gets caught up with prostitutes, the tabloids shine on like the crazy finger-staining diamonds that they are.

What a day it must have been for Rupert Murdoch’s paper, their No. 2 enemy was served up on a platter by their No. 1 enemy, the New York Times. The “HO NO!” headline is good, but ultimately a little anti-climactic after considering all the possibilities bandied about on the web and in office chatter. But it beats the News‘ “PAY FOR LUV GOV.” In any event, there must have been no question in either newsroom yesterday: Eliot Spitzer was “the wood,” which is tabloidspeak for the frontpage (because the type used to be set with, you guessed it, wood blocks.)

But where the Post really shines is photo selection. Most papers splashed Eliot across the frontpage with a tightly cropped photo of the governor biting his lip, looking contrite and most Golummesque


The Post went with the wider shot which included his wife Silda looking icy and a little dead on the inside. After all the indignity she must be suffering, she then has to appear on the front page of the Post with a giant “HO” emblazoned right below her face.

It’s a classic story-telling technique similar to describing the victim’s family’s reaction instead of focusing on the person on trial when the verdict is read. And it’s used to great effect. Here is the family drama laid bare, and for all of the apologizing that Spitzer must do, it’s his wife and daughters that deserve the biggest.
Inside the papers, both use photos of Spitzer lovely young daughters— Jenna, Elyssa and Sarabeth— to illustrate columns. The Post‘s Andrea Peyser is predictably outraged concluding her column: “A word of advice to Silda: Get out as fast as your attractive legs can carry you. A guy like this will wear you down.”

Truth be told, we expected a little more. But perhaps Peyser is at her finest when no one else is outraged, when she is the only one who can summon enough anger to rage at a situation or person when no one can find it inside them to do it. That’s when Peyser shines.

Spitzer, Silda and their three daughters smile brightly in a photo from a happier time that runs above Michael Goodwin’s column, which pulls no punches:

Eliot Spitzer’s enormous failure is not political, nor simply personal. He suffers from a character flaw that defeated his better angels. He simply couldn’t tell the truth, even when a lie wasn’t needed. It’s as though he didn’t know the difference.

It’s now obvious his whole life was a lie. This is a man who thundered against illegality and prosecuted prostitution rings, and now has been caught patronizing one.

He needs help. New York does not need him.

Goodwin’s certainly got it right about Eliot Spitzer needing help. There’s a couple of ways of looking at it: Spitzer was so arrogant that he’d thought he’s never get caught. Or maybe on some weird level he wanted to get caught. How else to describe how a man who is a former prosecutor and a eight-year veteran of the state’s top law enforcement post could get caught up in this mess.

Spitzer knows how financial transactions can be tracked, how wire-tapping works, how criminal enterprises that are much more sophisticated than Emperors Club VIP get taken down regularly. Yet he did what he did. Why?

Is it about sex and power or something more? That’s what makes it all the more astounding.

The Post‘s Fredric Dicker, who has dogged Spitzer his entire time in office, offers some insight into the personality behind Eliot Spitzer:

A disgraced Gov. Spitzer has been publicly and privately described for more than a year by New York’s top political figures as a ruthless, sanctimonious, amoral man whose righteous public persona was regularly contradicted by the realities of how he conducted his political life.

Talk about confirmation!

But what about “Kristen”? We’re trying to figure out how long it will be until the mysterious call girl is outed. All we know is that she’s “an American, petite, very pretty brunette, 5-foot-5 inches and 105 pounds.” A hundred-and-five pounds?

The “what’s going to happen to Silda” narrative is also a fascinating one. We get the News‘ Jane Ridley musing about the “Stand By Your Man” suit, the aforementioned Peyser telling Mrs. Spitzer to run away as fast as she can and the classic, “won’t anyone think of the children?” issues.

This is an incredibly gendered story, and we wonder how this will affect Hillary Clinton. You can almost imagine the first drafts of stories that mentioned how she stood by her man 10 years ago.

Because, to mix metaphors, this wood has legs. You’d think it was a pirate convention.

Verdict: Post. They won with the graphics, and with the outrage.