Osama bin Laden and Derek Jeter’s secrets of perpetual youth: Herbal Viagra, positive thinking

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Today's tabloids, May 9, 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: On the eighth morning of publication since the killing of Osama bin Laden, there's still lots to talk about: Revelations about the Al Qaeda leader from interviews with survivors of the Navy SEAL raid that was his defeat, information obtained from thumb drives and computers at the large compound in Aboottabad where he was holed up for the last five years, and, yes, information about bin Laden's health at the time of his death.

You may remember reports from several years ago that bin Laden suffered kidney disease as a result of a previous poisoning attempt on his life by the Saudi government. Pervez Musharraf reported at the time that it was possible bin Laden, who he said required dialysis and would be traveling with two large machines to perform the procedure regularly, might well already be dead. Well, one of his wives, shot in the leg during the raid and recovering at a hospital in Rawalpindi, told Pakistani newspaper Dawn that bin Laden was in perfectly good health, and reports about items found in his medicine cabinet seem to suggest—wait, hold on a second. Avena syrup, the "natural" Viagra? We have our front page!

"DROOP DEAD" reads the main hed in heavy black type over what appears to be a photomontage of a bottle of the stuff ("SOW YOUR WILD OATS" reads the label) and a headshot of bin Laden. Two bullet points are the only thing here to give you an idea that we are not being bidden to read three pages of news about bin Laden's sexual functionality. "Bin Laden had herbal 'Viagra' in his medicine cabinet," sure; but also "Pols urge giving $50M Osama bounty to 9/11 victims."

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The New York Post: Whereas the competition has made the rather dramatic decision on Day 8 to kick bin Laden off the cover entirely, after 7 days of dominance. A triumphant Derek Jeter at bat, with black-outlined, knockout-white text layered over him reading "HE'S BACK!" The dek: "Slumping Jeter slams 2 HRs to beat Texas."

There would be no cover story here if it were just an emphatic regular-season win over a quality opponent. The story here is that Jeter, who's been accused of losing his touch, of being too old to have been signed to such a long contract, had a massive day against the Texas Rangers, hitting his first two home runs of the season in the fifth and seventh innings of the game, the first tying the score at 4-4 and the second breaking the tie, and paving the way for Curtis Granderson's seventh-inning home run that clinched the game at 6-4. So, despite what I normally say, that sports gets the front only when the news desk takes a powder, there's news here—and many more covers ahead: The storyline is now set up so that however Jeter does for the next few games, he's a front-page man again. Which is why "HE'S BACK!" almost seems like an inside joke to readers.

Observations: Buried in the News piece are details that actually are important and interesting. 29-year-old Amal al Sadeh, who married bin Laden twelve years ago, told the Paskistani newspaper Dawn about the midnight raid:

She said that before Bin Laden could reach for his AK-47, the U.S. commandos burst in and shot him, Dawn reported.

That contradicts earlier Pakistani reports quoting her saying that Bin Laden was first taken into custody and then shot down in front of his young daughter.

Of course yesterday's Post, similarly hoping to have a little fun with some of the more anecdotal stuff coming out of the Abbottabad complex, led the paper yesterday with "BUM LADEN'S WRECK ROOM," charging that "Hobo of terror liked seeing self on TV." Still, somehow, the viagra story seems to fight the seriousness of the overall storyline, including the second thread the News wants to sell us, about what will happen to the $50 million bounty on bin Laden's head.

I actually don't protest Jeter's cover status on the Post. I'm not sure that Jeter needs the whole page to move papers, though. A bit of news in the bin Laden vein might have helped give the page more impact.

Still, the Post did the right thing if the best anyone could do was herbal viagra. 

Winner: The New York Post.