Obama’s Ground Zero visit papers over bin Laden’s train plot

Today's tabloids, May 6, 2011. ()
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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?

Daily News: One of the things about the first page of a newspaper is you don't get a second one. Today, the News is wrapped in a commemorative "double truck," which is to say that if you lifted off the cover page and laid it flat, it'd be a poster, with the flag "DAILY NEWS" along the top of the right half. Of course the compositional limitations of this poster is that it's folded around the newspaper and either stacked or faced out at the newsstand, so the right-hand half of the page has to work on its own. It probably has to have some text on it, too. What you're left with looks an awful lot like a front page that someone forgot to crop the left half of the image out of. It's a really nice picture. But for our purposes, the fact that there is a more traditional "front page" on the third page you reach flipping through the paper doesn't matter. The News front is what you see on the front of the newspaper when you get to the newsstand.

This little digression is made particularly necessary because on a regular day, the cover on page 3 (called page 1, pictured at left), which you can look at here big, is pretty damn good. It's the story on the Qaeda plot to attack U.S. rail systems on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. You have to buy the paper to know that, though, and the point of this exercise is that you haven't yet, right?

It's just another snap-second away from the picture everyone else is using, of Barack Obama standing on the other side of a wreath from firefighter Joseph Lapointe (opening it up, you get the addition of police officer Stephanie Moses and several more). White letters along the bottom set over the photo read "'We'll never forget,'" and a thin black bar beneath advertises "OBAMA'S HISTORIC VISIT TO GROUND ZERO." A very small red snipe across the upper right hand corner of the page, obliterating part of the flag, reads "16-PAGE COMMEMORATIVE EDITION."

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The New York Post: With a slightly different shot of the same moment, the Post goes with a larger headline, more intrusive on the photo, that reads in white, black-outlined type, "PROMISE KEPT." The dek: "'We mean what we say,'" which is a quote from Barack Obama that's also familiar from past presidents, if I'm not mistaken. The caption does not identify Lapointe except to call him "a first responder," which is both more and less information than I could find on him from photologs of the Agence-France Press, Associated Press and Getty Images, and less. Not set over the photo, but beneath it, the Post advertises its train-attack story in a red bar: "OSAMA MULLED 9/11 ANNIVERSARY ATTACK," it reads.

Inside, the story, also carried in the News but which for perhaps obvious reasons for both papers could not dominate the whole cover, details a plot to sabotage rails at an unspecified location in the U.S., perhaps by tampering with the actual rails to cause a train to topple over while traversing a bridge. The plot also indicates a rich vein of potentially great P.R. for official Washington, which can probably with some justification list any and all plots uncovered from an examination of 100 thumb drives, DVDs and computer disks and 10 hard-drives seized from the Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad complex as potential tragedies averted.

Observations: There was no getting around the wreath cover, of course. A "commemorative" edition with a wrap is a nice idea. And such a thing is only mucked up if you splash some specific news item about a hypothetical train attack over it.

Still, that story is pretty compelling stuff for a tabloid. I understand why it's not on the wrap cover of the News, but it's a price to pay. Also: I don't know if the little snipe is prominent enough to make it clear to readers why the cover is so photo-heavy. The text looks demure at the bottom. There's a reason the covers of tabloids are not like the cover of Time. It's because this is a formula that sells: something outrageous or sentimental or patriotic or sententious, compelling photography, and the right idea about selling a story.

Winner: The New York Post.