Who is this Mosque man? Tab grabs narrative and runs

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Today's tabloids, August 16, 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: The "Ground Zero Mosque" story has, in the last three days, turned a corner, and the Post has profited from it this morning. "HAMAS BIG BACKS MOSQUE" reads the knockout type on a black field on most of the Post's wood this morning. For a moment I was tempted to think, as many who see the paper on newsstands might, that of course Hamas supports this mosque. Hamas would probably support this mosque even if it rented itself out for gay weddings or corporate pig-roasts. What interest would Hamas possibly have in fostering ecumenism in America, or in siding with Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the importance of separating church and state? Sure, an endorsement does not imply a connection, even remotely. But that has never stopped this particular issue—the company you keep, or rather, that you can't keep away—from entering American political campaigns. But viewed in those terms, the Post has the floor, and President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who wants to build the Islamic cultural center in the old Burlington Coat Factory, have given it to them: Obama and Clinton by allowing Feisal to represent the United States on a goodwill mission to the Middle East in which he admits he was also raising money for his own and other Islamic organizations, and Feisal himself by refusing to denounce Hamas as a terrorist group. It's not that he has to denounce Hamas; it's that the imam who wants to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan but is unwilling to observe any political niceties about the Middle East is probably not the voice of ecumenism American Islam might have wished for. Never mind how any or all of these individual points can be misconstrued: This is politics, and now not just local but national politics. "How much evidence do we need that this guy is a radical Muslim?" asks Tom Brown, a chief opponent of the Mosque, rhetorically. Well, a whole lot more than this. Still, what a mess.

In light of the power of this story, which has no art attached, it's a little hard to tell why the apparent suicide of "Craigslist killer" Philip Markoff or the arrest of Brooklyn-native Indiana Pacer Lance Stephenson on charges he assaulted his girlfriend should warrant front-page treatment. Still, there they are on the left, not adding much to the mix visually or texturally. It's probably worth wondering what art the Post had for the mosque story: inside pictures of Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar sitting cross-legged on an oriental rug in a white caftan would seem not entirely worthless for the cover, right?

Daily News: It's nice, every now and then, to find a story about a bona fide Hollywood celebrity on the front page of a New York tabloid that is actually the result of the paper's own original reporting. Sources tell the Daily News' Frank DiGiacomo that, despite Hollywood rumors to the contrary, director David Fincher is taking a close look at Scarlett Johnasson for the role of Lisbeth Salander in the 2011 American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the movie version of the late Stieg Larsson's runaway hit detective novel. Inside, the item gives it all up: when she auditioned, how badly she wanted the role, Fincher's concern about whether the American actress in the role could do a Swedish accent (the mystery is set in Larsson's native country), and how Fincher is reconsidering his idea of "breaking" an unknown actress for the role. Johansson in this role, opposite Daniel Craig, is pretty potent stuff. But we're a little mystified at the cover treatment: the News' tendency to rehash stuff you've read elsewhere in order to get a pretty face on the wood is well known. Did the Page One team not see a need to signal that the newsbreak is an exclusive? Also, "SCARLETT MAY BE GETTING A NEW 'TATTOO'" seems an obscure way to tell the story. If you're willing to use so many words, why be coy? Slap an "EXCLUSIVE" snipe on that, and say what you mean to say!

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But first billing, based on type-weight, goes to the story on the bottom half of the page: an "EXCLUSIVE POLL" shows that more than 10 percent of New Yorkers "have had critters at home." Yes, it's "BEDBUG CITY." Question: Did you not already know New York was Bedbug City? Did you know what the previous estimates were of how many of your fellow city-dwellers had been bitten? Answer: The poll, conducted with Marist College, showed that twice as many people have had infestations as the city has admitted so far; also that bedbugs do in fact affect lower-income families at a greater rate than families with incomes over $50,000. OK, it's not huge. But even this minor advance on the bedbugs story is hidden from view. Also: is a poll the best way, scientifically, to determine the extent of the problem?

Observations: Never mind that if the news cycle had developed differently, and if Feisal Abdul Rauf had half a brain, this whole mosque thing would have played out differently: counterfactual propositions aren't worth much at this point. It remains the fact that opposition to the mosque will likely fail, since there is no constitutional basis for refusing Feisal; and yet also that this mosque will quite likely not be built anywhere near Ground Zero. Whether Feisal ought to give up now or stick around and fight is a matter of opinion. But there can be no question that the Post is telling today's story, where the News, refreshing as its gossip scoop may be, is playing at the margin.

Winner: The New York Post.