The New York Post is no stranger to controversial headlines, but the tabloid really topped itself this weekend with a cover featuring kidnapped and murdered Williamsburg resident Menachem “Max” Stark. Stark, whose Thursday evening abduction on Rutledge Street was captured on video, was found in a dumpster in Long Island on Friday, and the Post decided to inform the reading public not only that Stark was dead, but also that there were maybe more than a couple of people with motives for killing him. And, just like that, controversy ensued!
The Post’s story on Stark was a negative take on the life of the murdered man, whom the paper called “a millionaire Hasidic slumlord,” noting that Stark was “embroiled in several ‘shady’ real-estate transactions and being up to his tuchus in debt.” Beyond that, Stark also had a history of unhappy tenants (a quick scan of the Yelp page for one of his buildings reveals a multi-year history of property owner’s neglect and tenant dissatisfaction) and a past arrest for having “forcibly touched” an underage girl. In other words, the Post in its typical, attention-grabbing style, was reporting on the reality of this kidnap/murder case. The abduction of Menachem Stark was probably not a case of a victim being selected at random. This was a man who had amassed no small amount of enmity during his lifetime, and it’s not impossible to think that his horrific death had something to do with that. Besides, this is the Post! This is what the tabloid does with headlines. This is what it’s always done. It’s not really that big of a deal, is it?
Well, maybe not to most people who don’t expect that much from the paper that used the headline “Osama Bin Wankin’” after a porn cache was found in Bin Laden’s hideout (dubbed “Whora Bora”). But for other people, like new Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Public Advocate Letitia James, this headline warranted a press conference. As Politicker reports, Adams and James were “joined by members of Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, who filled Brooklyn Borough Hall’s large rotunda” as they denounced the Post, with Adams saying, “Who did not want him dead? Who didn’t? His children did not want him dead,” and James calling “on the city’s government to cease buying ads in the Post for public notices.” Other speakers invoked the Holocaust and everyone seemed to agree that nothing less than a public apology from the Post to the Stark family would be accepted, and that the tabloid had never sunk to such a sickening low. Even the Post’s rival, the New York Daily News, joined in, referring to the Post as a “down-market New York tabloid newspaper.” Which is pretty rich coming from a paper whose Menachem Stark headline was the oh-so-subtle “TORCHED!” Talk about inflammatory.
The Post‘s headline about Menachem Stark is outrageous, and I have no doubt that it would have been painful to see if Stark was someone you knew and cared about. But was it so different really than the Post cover which bore the photo of Ki Suk Han, the New Yorker who was pushed in front of a subway and died? Tabloid headlines (and, ahem, even Internet headlines) are supposed to grab the eye, in the hope that, in turn, the paper itself will be grabbed and read. The Post was not, as has been suggested, saying that Stark deserved to die, only that he wasn’t a man who didn’t have enemies. Today, the New York Times ran a story about Stark with the headline, “A Developer Is Mourned and Vilified in Brooklyn,” which presents Stark as a man who was loved by his family and community, but who also had a contentious, complicated relationship with many, many others. In content, it is not so different from what the Post said. In style, it is worlds apart. There is room in this city for both styles of reporting, and it is up to readers to decide what they consume and where they spend their money. As for me, I’d never buy the Post anyway. Two words: Andrea Peyser.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen