By: George Garneau New York Post goes after New York Times in front-page stories, accusing its competitor of ignoring plight of victims in its series on child-age killers; Times stays above the fray sp.
TAKING ISSUE WITH a competing paper's reportage is nothing new, especially in New York City. So it struck no unusual chord when several columnists took New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary to task recently when he discredited a woman's allegation of being raped. But even by the "anything-goes" standards in the nation's most competitive newspaper town, the New York Post's two-day fusillade against the New York Times stood out, even after factoring in the Post's tradition of stretching journalistic norms. The scrappy tabloid's blasts against the staid Times recalled days of yore, when Pulitzer battled Hearst, journalism was a trade instead of a profession and objectivity took a back seat to selling newspapers. For two days running, the Post lashed out at the Times' reporting, naming the Times in page-one headlines, reproducing excerpts of its stories and devoting over five full pages to criticizing the newspaper whose motto holds, "All the News That's Fit to Print." What foul deed did the Times commit to incur the wrath of Rupert Murdoch's Post? The Times probed a question more and more Americans have to be asking themselves these days as the youthful carnage mounts: What turns kids into killers? The Times on May 15 began a series, "When Trouble Starts Young," with profiles of some of the kids whose murderous ways have shocked citizens. The first installment recounted how 15-year-old Shaul Linyear held up, and ended up killing, a man delivering candy to get money for new sneakers because kids laughed at his old ones. The story by Celia Dugger chronicled how Linyear saved money from stealing gold chains and bought a gun, then used it to steal money to buy clothes and jewelry for his girlfriend. The Post reacted May 18 with a full front page devoted to the Times' coverage. "Murder victim's daughters blast the New York Times" said the kicker above a 160-point headline screaming "WHAT ABOUT US!" beside a photo of Alexandra Nunez holding a photo of her dad, Diogene Nunez, who died from Linyear's bullets. Pages two and three showed a picture of the dead man, more pictures of Nunez, crying and with her siblings, and a graphic depicting Times excerpts, all below a headline saying the Times' coverage of the killer "has left the real victims feeling bitter and confused." Post columnist Andrea Peyser wrote that the Times' Sunday story with a page-one picture of the smiling killer "mocked" the Nunez family. "Who should merit such glory but Shaul Linyear, the no-account menace who snuffed out the life of a loving husband and father of four ? leaving a family devastated, penniless and alone," Peyser wrote. "Nothing, not even the pain of losing her dad ? could compare with the agony that shot through 15-year-old Damaris Nunez's heart when she picked up the paper. Linyear, at least, was a homicidal maniac, but the sensitive folks at the Times never even bothered to ask her what she thought." Nunez family members accused the Times of "defending" the killer. "I would like to grab that person who wrote that article," Damaris Nunez said. "Drawing sympathy ? and giving glory ? to killers does nothing constructive," Peyser wrote. "It's an insult to the Nunezes, and to the memory of their slain father. And to the rest of us." Peyser stated, "There is only one thing that you need to 'understand' about the Shaul Linyears of this world: They need to be stopped. Preferably before they kill for the first time." The columnist did not disclose how to prevent young people from killing. The next day, the Post continued with a page-one refer box and two full pages, four and five, devoted to the same theme. A story by two political reporters quoted mostly Republican and conservative politicians accusing the Times of stirring up sympathy for child killers while ignoring their victims. "The New York Times is so out of touch with the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers concerned about crime it's a disgrace," said Dov Hikind, a state assemblyman and one the two Democrats and five Republicans to take the Times to task. The only attempt at balance was one paragraph reporting that Times executives did not return phone calls. Two other stories, slugged "The Victims," quoted relatives of other murder victims lambasting the Times. "Like many families torn apart by the murderers profiled in the Times' series," Post reporter Jonathan Karl wrote, "the widowed mother of five [Aurora Marte] said: 'They are more worried about the killer than they are about my family.' " Editorial cartoonist Sean Delonas joined the charge in a page-six cartoon depicting citizens reading the Times the day after Lincoln's assassination, the headline declaring, "Pity the Poor Family of John Wilkes Booth." The Times defended itself in a two-paragraph statement from spokeswoman Nancy Nielsen, who said the paper "regularly examines the pain and suffering crime causes its victims." The Linyear profile, she said, "described the irreparable damage his crime has done to the family of his victim and the murderer's lack of remorse in the face of their grief. But the central purpose of the article was to describe a young murderer and his crime." The Times series "will look deeply at a particular aspect of the crime problem: the increasing number of teenage criminals and society's struggle to deal with them," and in coming months will "examine in detail other aspects of this national problem, including the victims, the causes and the solutions." Post editor Ken Chandler did not return a call. At least one academic welcomed the Post's gloves-off approach. "I think it's a very healthy development for newspapers to be commenting on each other. It's something that has been lost in America," said Everette Dennis, executive director of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center in New York. Newspapers become "more vital if their stories are subjected to public discussion or debate, whether you agree with the analysis or not," he said. Dennis likened the practice to 19th-century United States and to contemporary London. In recent years, however, journalism has been dominated by the snuff-box-never-sneezes theory, holding that commenting on the work of other newspapers is in poor taste and just not done. "There's something almost monastic about papers now," Dennis said. Subjecting other papers to criticism, a role now served mainly by alternative weeklies, also serves to clarify the identities of newspapers, he said. "I think there are clearly ideological differences between the Post and the Times, and that's useful for the public to know and highlights differences between the papers," Dennis said. He added that the Post's criticism dealt mainly in opinion and emotion, whereas the Times' series deserved commendation and will probably win awards because it gave human voices to a widely ignored group ? kids who were just that before they became killers. The Post wasn't the only news organization to see a story the Times' series. So did WYNY-TV, another property of Rupert Murdoch's Australia-based News Corp. The Times' PR office said that before E&P inquired, the Post and WYNY were the only news organizations seeking comment on the series. Times spokesman William Adler said the paper did not respond to the Post's calls because "the stories were not serious attempts to grapple with the issue and were clearly exploitive." Attacking the Times in the news columns is not a major departure for the Post, however, since its op-ed pages have made a cottage industry of bashing the "liberal" media, especially the Times, to which it devotes a weekly column of criticism by Hilton Kramer. It regularly carries Brent Bozell III's conservative critiques of the media. Nor is the Times the only New York paper to come into the Post's sights. Mortimer Zuckerman, who has owned the Daily News for over a year, has also been a regular target. Zuckerman is also a real estate developer who has contracted with the city and the transit agency to buy the New York Coliseum and build an office complex on the site. Since he has failed to build the $335 million project, he stands to lose a $34 million letter of credit he gave as a deposit. While all the city's papers ? with the notable exception of the News ? have covered the story aggressively, and have editorialized urging the city to pocket Zuckerman's $34 million and put the property up for bid again, only the Post has made sport of it: With every story on the wheeling and dealing between Zuckerman and city officials, it runs a "Coliseum Countdown" logo with Zuckerman's picture and the number of days left until the letter of credit falls due. ?( A Portion of the New York Post's barrage against the New York Times) [Photo & Caption]