Disgraced former governor, rabid aspiring governor proxies in tabloid war today

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Today's tabloids, Oct. 5, 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:  So, last night Eliot Spitzer's rehabilitation program (even he uses the joke! So let's all stop …) began with the first installment of "Parker-Spitzer," his new co-anchored CNN primetime talk show. The name may sound like a Bavarian alpine peak, but to The New York Post the new show went downhill right from the opening credits. Not that you'd know that looking at today's wood. "Client #9's TV debut!" screams a rather merry-looking blue headline on a pale yellow background. To the right, a head-and-shoulders silho of Eliot Spitzer, and to the left, a series of four men's legs, besocked to the calf. "4 SOCK REVIEW: SEE PAGES 4-5" reads the dek.

Now, in reviewing language, lots of publications have tried to find a way around the tired star system, in which a count of one is always bad and three, four or five is good. NY1 measures movies in apples; what would have been a half-star in a less, erm, playful setting is given "half a wormy apple." So once you're past the sock joke (you may remember, court documents indicated Spitzer liked to keep his dress socks on during encounters with a prostitute), it seems like racking up four of them should be pretty good!

Actually there isn't anything you'd call a review inside. Andrea Peyser, the moral authority of our time, begins her blow-by-blow account of the hour of programming last night with the line, "This time, the viewer got screwed." The better part of a page of display calls out "Some of Spiter's most cringe-worthy moments last night" (though plenty of the call-outs seem in themselves to be rather admiring in their presentation). The straight news story from Kate Sheehy spent the better part of a half of the article noting that in an interview Aaron Sorkin, who has been reputed to see prostitutes in the past himself, the topic of seeing prostitutes did not come up between him and the former governor. (Surprise?) It would in fact be a surprise if the Post had much good to say about the show.

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In general, I get annoyed when people point to the Post's coverage of media and try to find some nefarious interference from the top brass at News Corp. The fact that the Post's corporate parent also owns Fox News, which is engaged in a bitter cable-news war with CNN, home of "Spitzer-Parker," is still relevant, though. What the Posties have runs much deeper than a willingness to serve interfering bosses; what I always hear from employees there is that nary a peep is heard the newsroom about what News Corp. would like to see in the paper. It's more a kind of "team spirit" that ends up pervading the company in such a way that it's almost impossible to imagine a Post employee, asked to write about or review a CNN show starring one of the paper's favorite punching bags, deciding on his own that he or she wanted to lavish praise on it.

But if all the tabloid trappings—sight-gags, over-the-top display—are at the top of the page this morning, the Post gets back down to New York tabloid tradition with the piece on the lower right that is meant, clearly, given the type size and weight, to command the page. "WITNESS MURDER" reads the main hed. "Execution silences two who saw slays." It seems that the murder in the early-morning hours yesterday of two people in an S.U.V. at the intersection of 19th Street and Broadway in the "trendy Flatiron District" (never mind that nobody in his right mind hangs out there at night given the zoning that allows some of the most violent nightclubs to operate on the 5th-to-6th Avenue block in the neighborhood) was really an execution of two people sought by police in their investigation into a murder last summer in Coney Island. Ripped out of "Law & Order," back into the headlines! It's a meaty story, and you'll be trying to write the episode in your mind as you read.

There's also a special pull-out section, "REPEAT THE FEAT," previewing the Yankees' attempt to win the World Series again, touted on the left. That should tell all of those advertisers (auto dealers, Hooters, Delta Airlines, Johnnie Walker, Garden State Brickface and Stucco, to be precise) that the paper really means to sell the special section to readers.

Daily News:  "SEX SURVEY SEZ!" Not to be outdone by the Post, which slathered a "six keys to happiness" survey conducted in Britain across the top of their front page recently, the Daily News produces weighs in with a survey from Indiana University that's been going on since 1994. Over those 16 years, 85 percent of men bragged to pollers that their latest sexual partner had had an orgasm; 64 percent of women reported that they'd had one with their latest sex partner. So unless there are many more homosexuals than Indiana University or any of the rest of us know about, that means men are lying. It's a result I can't help but feel I've read a million times before, and frankly I can't stomach the two pages of display devoted to it. (Even the usually quite perky Joanna Molloy's entry, "Lesson to Harry: Make it good for Sally & she won't have to fake it." I won't have what Joanna's having!) The dek on the front page, by the way, is all wrong: "Men play wrong note on the orgasm." Is this supposed to be a pun on organ? Note to News: it doesn't read.

Abandoning Vito Lopez today (an inside hed confesses, "Vito's sleep habits"—which were the subject of the News' wood yesterday—"get yawn from other pols"), the News returns to "Crazy Carl" Paladino, your next governor. "CRAZY CARL INC.," reads the main hed, and the dek: "When Paladino hires campaign help, he pays $1.9 million to someone he can trust—himself." Commence scratching head; now stop. "Since last spring, Paladino has steered at least $1.9 million in campaign money to seven separate companies he controls, paying himself to buy TV ads, provide space for campaign offices and even hire an accountant." This is billed as an exclusive, by the way. "Eleciton law does not prohibit candidates from hiring their own companies to do campaign work, as long as the campaign is charged" a fair-market rate. But the whole thing is especially confusing because, while Paladino has raised about $1 million in outside donations, the bulk of his campaign is funded out of his own pocket in he first place. I wonder if "pols" will "yawn" at this one in tomorrow's News.

A side note: the News is taller and narrower than the Post, which should make it a marginally more expensive newspaper to produce. Does the fact that all the extra space, and then some, lately seems to go to advertisers cover the difference? If not, expect the next crackdown on expenses to hit the physical product to be a reduction.

Observations: Lots and lots of people pick up sex surveys. I'll never know why. And the tired Harry and Sally image can't possibly resonate with people born more than a decade after the editors of the News. It's depressing to see this up here. The Post's guilty pleasure, the four-sock review of Spitzer's new show, is at least written off the news. (We should note that on the inside pages the Post also devoted space to this sex survey; they had the wisdom to find something better for the front.) And to us, as compelling as Crazy Carl may be, this exclusive is unintelligible on the front page. Give us a nice straight police procedural any day.

Winner: The New York Post.