Love, Sex and Scandal in New York (Times)

>Ya gotta love a "local" paper that takes the tabloid staples of love, sex and scandal and runs with them -- even more so when it is a newspaper known more for its national and international coverage of "all the news that's fit to print."

Tucked inside the front section of yesterday's New York Times (March 10) were two compelling pages of local New York stories pulled together under the umbrella headline "Love, Bad Behavior, and the Consequences," accompanied by bold 8"x6" photos of two of the perpetrators.

One was a grim Robert Joel Halderman, 52, the former CBS producer who pleaded guilty Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan for trying to extort $2 million from David Letterman by threatening to reveal details of affairs the talk show host had with members of his staff. Halderman got six months in jail for the Letterman plot as well as 1,000 hours of community service. The story had a great quote from Halderman's lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, reached by phone after the court proceeding: "Weighing the risks against the rewards, I thought this was an opportunity to make the best of a bad mess." Good call.

Immediately below is the more tender love story -- and crime -- of a Chinese graduate student who also pleaded guilty Tuesday and got one-tenth the community service time that Halderman faces, as well as a $500 fine and $158 in fees in his appearance before the Newark Municipal Court. He was charged with "defiant trespass" when he slipped past a security checkpoint at Newark's international airport on January 3 for a last moment of romance with his girlfriend at the Continental departure gate. His unwitting escapade shut down the airport on a busy day, causing about 200 flights to be delayed or cancelled while authorities searched for the elusive suspect (who says he didn't even know he was wanted).

Times reporter Michael Wilson got an exclusive interview with Jiang and wrote it up in style in his story of "A Day of Reckoning for an Airport Kiss."

Theirs was a whirlwind New York City Christmas, but while true love is timeless, vacations are not. Sadly, it came time for one of the lovebirds to fly home to California, and the other, Haisong Jiang--love-struck as if Cupid hit him not with an arrow, but with a two-by-four to the head--saw his beloved to the security line at Newark Liberty International Airport.

One thing led to another, and they kissed. And whatever else that kiss sealed, it certainly included his fate: to ladle out meals at some soup kitchen to be determined as a way toward working off 100 hours of community service for his crime that afternoon in January.

"At that moment, I'm very excited with my girlfriend, and I didn't think too much," Mr. Jiang, 28, said Tuesday in his first interview since causing the six-hour shutdown at the airport and the five-day manhunt that followed. "I didn't mean to cause trouble at the airport."

Happily, Wilson reports, the lovebirds are still together, albeit with a long-distance romance in which Jiang flew uneventfully to California for Valentine's Day.

There's also a nice "About New York" column on the latest scandals involving embattled New York Governor David Paterson. But the truly unforgettable headline is one topping a piece on the adjacent page involving former New York Rep. Eric J. Massa's recent resignation amidst allegations of sexual misconduct involving staff members:

"Congressman who Quit Says He Had Tickle Fights." The Times account of the latest political contretemps, which broke in the Washington Post Tuesday, is playing catch-up. It chronicles Massa's denials of wrongdoing on Fox News' Glenn Beck show, including a description of "tickling an aide during a birthday party in a town house he shared with five of his staff members."

The married Massa acknowledged bad judgment, as he recounted that party: "'Now they are saying I groped a male staffer...Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him. I tickled him until he couldn't breathe, and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. It was kill the old guy. You can take anything out of context." Indeed.

These tales of sex and scandal, in the New England edition of The Times, provided a great read over a solo out-of-town dinner. And they wowed the competition. My second dinner companion, the New York-based The Wall Street Journal, covered the Halderman and Massa stories under page 6 U.S. News with straight-forward, forgettable news accounts of "Man Admits to Letterman Extortion" and "Former Lawmaker Denies Sexual Allegations." And Jiang's love story was reduced to a tiny New Jersey wire service round-up story, "Suspect in Breach at Airport Pleads Guilty." Case closed.

I'm sure the New York tabloids went to town with these stories in their own inimitable way, and the exploits have not surprisingly captured the national fancy. But I enjoyed The Times' memorable local take on these saucy stories.