8:53 am Apr. 27, 2011
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?
Daily News: We've known for some time now that Katie Couric would announce her exit this week from the CBS "Evening News."
Her contract is up in June, and reports she was not planning to renew it have taken on the patina of fact. But she's a famous face, and if you're hurting for material, the announcement is a nice peg for an advance on the story that puts her mug on the front page. That's what the News is selling with its question headline this morning: "Can Katie be the new Oprah?"
Of course the News actually has an answer to that question: No!
It's not Couric's fault:
Taking over Dan Rather's old job was a gamble for Couric and CBS, but moving into daytime could be even riskier. Getting a daytime series off the ground is difficult, even with proven talent. Audiences have shifted since Oprah Winfrey made her mark, and the market is fractionalized.
Nevertheless, Richard Huff reports, the deal to leave the "Evening News" has been followed with talks about a syndicated daytime talk show, possibly with CBS, though ABC has also indicated interest. Which gives them their dek: "BIDDING WAR ERUPTS AS SHE WEIGHS ANCHOR." Couric is very important to today's front page because she's the only face on the page; it's not that nothing could have been found for the main news story, which is another chapter in the story of Monday's fire in the Bronx that killed three residents on the third floor of the building, which had been illegally chopped up into several apartments in such a way as to block escape and create hazardous wiring conditions likely to result in a fire. But the take is a little puzzling: The News had looked like it was mounting a crusade to strengthen the city's powers to intervene and root out illegal conversions.
Today's headline, in knockout white on a black field, reads: "In wake of Bronx inferno, Bloomy demands … CLOSE THE FIRETRAPS." What Bloomberg actually says inside the paper falls significantly short of that:
Conceding the city has not done enough, Bloomberg said he told the fire and buildings commissioners to "develop some new strategies for going after building owners that we suspect are most egregiously responsible for dangerous illegal conversions citywide."
What's more, just yesterday, Bronx councilman Oliver Koppell and Queens councilman Peter Vallone were vocal about the mayor's opposition to bills they have introduced to widen the scope of the buildings and fire departments to investigate reports of illegal conversions. "This is an outrageous system that will lead to more deaths, but the administration is happy to let that exist," Vallone said. "If they have better legislation, [let them] propose it." Council speaker Christine Quinn even took the step of ordering her own hearings in June on how the city deals with illegal conversions; if the Council and the Mayor were seeing eye to eye on this, wouldn't we have a joint announcement from Quinn and Bloomberg? If Bloomberg's position is not the toughest, why should the News crusade reward it?
Perhaps the News believes, with the mayor's office, that the measures proposed by the councilmen would be struck down in court. That's fine, but then it's time to pick another crusade for the front page.
The New York Post: Meanwhile the Post crusade to root out "bad-apple" teachers gets kicked from the front page today. Instead they make room for their other crusade: a loosely formed aggro around cops and cars. The ticket-fixing scandal has nothing much to do with the revelation that cops agreed, at the behest of a dry cleaner in Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs' entourage, to provide a police escort for the block and a half between the Hammerstein Ballroom to the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel Friday night so he could make a $75,000 gig in New Jersey. Except that they both have the aura of special treatment for special people.
Early on, the "special person" was not so resonant with the general public: a Harlem businessman who bizarrely also claimed (falsely) to be the brother of former mayoral candidate Bill Thompson. Today they're rocking, though, with Combs the poster-boy for special treatment. And they got the prize: the mayor, seemingly tougher on Diddygate than on illegal conversions, has ordered an I.A.B. probe into the decision to provide the escort on what is the precinct's busiest crime-time of the week.
When a crusade also allows you to put P. Diddy on the cover, you've got gold; even better, you get to write the headline "P-DIDIOTS," over an important-looking row of cop cars and a head-and-shoulders portrait of the star. The dek: "Cops probed for escorting Diddy to $75,000 gig."
And Kate Middleton, too, you say? The royal wedding on Friday would have to be pretty damn fantastic to watch. (I was around for the last one, when Lady Di became Princess Di, and I can tell you that actually it's just sort of a mass, and if you think they're fun, I'll see you on Sunday!) Anyway, it looks like the Post has unveiled a plot to steal Middleton's bridalwear! "My plan to steal the royal wedding dress," reads the white display copy over an ugly blue gradated field. There's of course a silho of Middleton, and the cheesy red, royal-seal-encrusted bar gives the only hint that the Post is not revealing a wacky heist-plot: "DESIGNING WOMAN'S SCHEME: PAGE 4." If you've been reading the tabloids long enough you know that "DESIGNING WOMAN" does not ever just mean a woman with a sinister plot; it also means an actual clothing designer. And that's what we've got.
Far from descending on Westminster Cathedral in black catsuits to rip the dress off Middleton's back, we've got a Long Island proprietress of a cut-rate bridal manufacturer in the Garment District who will wake up, brew herself some tea (how quaint!) and start sketching the moment Middleton starts walking down the aisle around 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. She'll then move onto the Long Island Railroad, where she will meet her sons, partners in the business, who will be pulling up "real-time" photography of the wedding so that she can keep working on the sketches. They'll pull all-nighters all weekend and then send the specs on Monday to China to be manufactured there; within eight days, copies of the dress will be available to Anglophile copycat brides across America in the market for a sub-$2,000 wedding gown. It's actually kind of fascinating, even if the sale on the front is a little dishonest.
Observations: Today, the News does poorly with two important stories, and the Post does beautifully with two unimportant ones. So it's not very hard.
Winner: The New York Post.