To ride the Bloomlet, or not? ‘News’ says no, for now

Today's tabloids, Dec. 9, 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: Welcome back to the Bloomberg presidential boomlet! It's been a little while, but you'll recognize all the signs. The mayor is delivering speeches (this time at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, for the Association for a Better New York's popular breakfast-speaker series) of national political importance, then booking himself to talk to Katie Couric and David Gregory (that's Sunday's "Meet the Press"), partly to amplify his speeches and partly to refute "rumors" (which aren't even really rumors—more on this in a second) that he plans to run for the White House.

The speech itself was simple and timely enough, and certainly took advantage of a particular moment on the national political scene: It was about "broken" Washington, about both the uselessness of inflexible ideology on both sides of the aisle (rendered a little bit simplistically, to be sure) and the substance of those ideologies. "STATE OF THE UNION: 'Presidential' Mike reads riot act to DC" reads the main wood of the Post today.

Somehow, the fact that the speech sounded like it might well have been made in Washington by someone with White House ambitions becomes "rumors" he is actually planning a run. Of course, it's hard to dismiss the dramatic gestures of a guy who has the means to create an instant well-funded presidential campaign at a time of his choosing. He's got billions and billions of dollars and no one doubts that he'd spend a real chunk of his fortune on whatever suited him.

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The Washington Post's Dan Balz notes that Bloomberg has tested the waters before, but that independent polling required a pretty strict set of circumstances to be in play if Bloomberg were ever to consider a run. And those circumstances are unlikely. Let's take Bloomberg the Pragmatist at his word, and wait till the numbers work for him before we hand him this presidential speculation.

The real answer to what he might be thinking by making this big speech, booking himself on television, and agreeing to be the star speaker at the unveiling of No Labels (a newly minted group meant to activate the "center" in American politics) is clear enough right here in David Seifman's piece, even if it does come from deputy mayor Howard Wolfson, one of the chief architects of Hillary Clinton's White House bid:

"We believe New York has a stellar record on jobs creation," said Wolfson. "We believe we have something to share with the rest of the country on that. The mayor of New York has a national platform. He's going to use it."

Wolfson noted that Bloomberg has repeatedly said he is not running for president.

There's actually really no reason not to believe him.

Still, the tabloids have been hurting a bit since Hillary Clinton took cover under the roof of the State Department, whence few stories come that are capable of stirring up serious reader interest. Our tabloids need a local character of national importance to get and keep the stage, so that they can do some image-brokering and capitalize on a national audience without forgetting that not many people plunk down 50 cents for the Post outside of the Northeast, or advertise in the Post's pages to reach those people. So the Bloomberg Boomlet is actually good for business, not just for Bloomberg but for the papers that cover him. So expect more hyperventilating before the present bubble deflates; and expect it to inflate again.

In the meantime, we have the murder of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen, who was shot several times in her car on the way home from a screening of Burlesque on Nov. 16. You may remember that shortly thereafter the police went to question Harold Smith, who killed himself as police approached; the gun he used in that incident, apparently, matches the one used to kill Chasen. Assuming this all holds up—prosecutors say they are "probably 60 to 70 percent done with the probe"—it'll put all the crazy conspiracy theories coming out of Tinseltown to rest. Right?

Daily News: It's hard to imagine that the News decided not to "bite" on the Bloomberg boomlet; and in fact inside the paper there's an account of the speech Bloomberg gave at yesterday's breakfast that pretty much follows the script everyone else is following. I guess the question is whether the News made a call that this bubble isn't worth inflating; carrying the narrative inside the paper doesn't have quite the boosterish oomph of taking over most of your front page with it. But given what the News went with, it actually just looks like an oversight.

Sure, the Yankees' offer of a six-year, $140 million contract to Texas pitcher Cliff Lee is big news. But what a page if they'd had this and also our mayor-president Michael Bloomberg! Still, the Cliff Lee story is leading the page with "$140 M. MAN" in nice, big type.

A strip along the righthand side has a pretty rough-looking Oprah Winfrey and advance notice that she will cry in tonight's Barbara Walters interview. There's something a little upsetting in the first place about Barbara Walters interviewing Oprah Winfrey. It feels a bit like Cliff Lee pitching to Andy Pettitte, or something. Anyway, she's "SOAP OPRAH" tonight. The fact that the tears come as she deflects "rumors" (another slight strawman, no?) that she is in a lesbian relationship with famous best friend Gayle King doesn't make the wood, curiously. Doesn't that seem like the newsbreak Walters is trying to sell here? And that's part of why it seems like they might just as well have sold the Bloomlet here.

Observations: I'll confess I hate it when the papers "theme" their covers to the thing their covering. To me it's as bad when they make a box with Harry Potterish text to headline a Harry Potter movie review as when they lay pinstripes down behind the text and reproduce a big Yankees logo for a Yankees story. Wouldn't Cliff Lee himself have been a better choice here? It would certainly have been newsier. But while we're there, "$140 M. MAN" is just a better headline than "STATE OF THE UNION." So let's say the News breaks even on treatment: I think they're missing a big opportunity by letting the Post cash in on the Bloomlet, even if it is, finally, bullshit. But they'll come around: Yesterday's breakfast was just the first moment in a national tour, and the News won't be willing to pay the price of neglecting it for long.

Winner: The New York Post.