The Tabloid Ballad of Steven Slater, a sequel

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Today's tabloids, August 11, 2010. ()
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Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?

The New York Post:  Hi guys. It's Day 2 of the Ballad of Steven Slater, and I, for one, am hoping we're on the last verse. But we have a job to do, and we do it every day (ahem…) whether it's convenient or fun or interesting or not. Right?

According to the Post, Slater brought uncommon zeal to his task. Writing under a pseudonym on an airline industry website, Slater, the Post has learned, is a self-described Bag Nazi. So of course that's the hed. "I go loony over luggage" reads the rest of the display, and there's a picture of the Bag Nazi with that impossible showbiz smile taking up much of the page. It is sort of that flight-attendant smile that makes one suspect the authenticity is in inverse* proportion to intelligence. And one thing is clear from all of the quotes we've heard out of Slater since his rant on the tarmac over the airplane P.A. system the other day, before he grabbed a coupla cold ones and slid down the emergency escape chute to his waiting car: He's a smart guy.

The Post prudently provides some ballast for all this fluff with a red stripe over the top of the page advertising its coverage of Charlie Rangel's recent remarks. Again you won't find quote marks around the line "I am not a crook," because the Nixonian analogy is just that, an analogy from the Post. But the feeling that one is about to choke on one's tiny bag of salted roasted peanuts that one gets from overexposure to America's Next Top Internet Sensation Folk Hero Steven Slater is, for a moment, staved off.

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Daily News: No BAG NAZI for the News! "FLYIN' HIGH" is the anodyne hed today on the News' almost-takeover of the wood with more Steven Slater. Equally anodyne, but at least of news value, is a picture of Slater talking to press as he makes his way from jail last night after posting $2,500 bail. "JetBlue ranter 'grateful' that he's hero to working stiffs," reads the deck. Aww. It's a love fest! Inside, the News takes the angle that Slater's 15 minutes of fame are not yet counted. The adoration of the Internet for his inflight antics can carry him yet further. In fact, after he at first allowed Today show correspondents to flee the prison with him in his livery cab, he kicked them out, and then, in turn, was kicked out himself; the cabbie had to bring him back to the prison gate to get another cab. No complaint from Slater here: the cabbie just wasn't ready for all this attention. Aww! Even the prison guards were shouting to him that he was a hero. Aww!

In other news, Fantasia, who is a person, appears to have overdosed on some medicines; Eat Pray Love gets three out of five stars; and something about Rangel. All in blue skyboxes with alternating black and yellow type.

Observations: In our capitalist world, we are all, at some time or another, paying customers. We are not all wage-earners. The Daily News knows that populism sometimes demands kowtowing to one constituency at the expense of another: "Shame on You"-style stories about low-level government bureaucrats rarely focus on the punishing conditions of the work or the insanity of some of the "customers," for instance. You won't catch them sympathizing with a postal worker. But by and large, the News knows it falls on the side of the wage-earner, as a rule. The Post may be less sure. Among its readers, how many are as likely to disdain airlines' luggage regulations, or to take the "customer is always right" approach that dictates that whatever representative of the offending company is in front of you deserves the brunt of their dissatisfaction?

Of course the big narrative on this is going the other way. Steven Slater is a folk hero of the take-this-job-and-shove-it, you-can't-fire-me-I-quit set. So "BAG NAZI" almost seems like waffling, on the Post's part. It's Steven Slater's party: to half-suggest he deserved what he got would be compelling if the paper decided to really go all the way—sic Andrea Peyser on flight crews as small men dressed in brief authority!—but this is mealymouthed. Is he the Seinfeld Soup Nazi of deboarding etiquette, or just a man trying to do a thankless job who one day had enough? "BAG NAZI" is a better hed than "FLYIN' HIGH," to be sure. But Slater's release from prison is a victory lap, not an opportunity for an exposé of overzealous airline stewards.

The Post seems aware that it is Wednesday, not Friday, and these long-tail discretionary stories—a review of Eat, Pray Love and news of the possible "Fantasia" suicide attempt are misplaced. They managed just enough Rangel to be a real newspaper, without jumping off the Slater bandwagon too soon. But the bulk of today's vote is on the bulk of the woods.

Winner: Daily News.

 

Special note: Thanks to the Tumblr's seedz and his friend, who pointed this out! I'd had it as "direct proportion." It was a long, long morning, and I twisted that sentence around several times, and just got twisted myself. You're right, and it's changed to "inverse proportion."