Obama shames Weiner, Harlem stabber shames himself

Today's tabloids, June 14, 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: The main headline on today's News is written in big knockout-white type on a black field: "PUNK KNOWS NO SHAME." And it is not about Anthony Weiner!

The dek reads: "Stabs woman, 82, in head during robbery." Inset is a postage-stamp-sized headshot of a suspect, Larry Brown, looking a little bit piratical in an obvious primtetime crime-drama way with his graying goatee-mustache and earrings in both ears. In fact, Brown is homeless, the paper reports, and has a drug problem. During the attack on the woman, his aunt, he stabbed her frenziedly before stealing $1,000 and taking off. Police haven't caught up with him yet. So I am wondering a bit how the News knows that Brown "knows no shame." Because, you know, you can do terrible things and be ashamed of them.

Or you can do not so terrible things and not be particularly ashamed, as we've seen over and over again in the case of Anthony Weiner, whose story today is rather unceremoniously dispensed with in a small red skybox above the flag in the News today. "BAM: IF I WERE WEINER, I WOULD JUST GO," reads the yellow text. The actual quote from Obama was "I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign." I can see how, deciding to put the story in this small box, the News has to get both Weiner and Obama's name in the text. What I can't see is why they would paraphrase the president instead of quoting him. Of course the paraphrase has the excellent virtue of correcting the president's grammar; "were," not "was," Mr. Obama! (And if we are to be really finicky, "I," not "me.")

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Of course Obama's just the latest voice in the chorus which also includes Nancy Pelosi, who clarified her views on Weiner yesterday: He has to resign. It's got no force, and Weiner can continue to stick it out, in theory. But he won't for much longer, will he?

I'm trying to figure out why, after days and days of Weiner covers, the president calling on one of our congressmen to resign isn't bigger news than this, for the News' purposes.

But there was big sports news, in addition to the crime story, to cover. After just one hit, Derek Jeter, who's trying hard to close in on 3,000 of them, was injured and had to leave yesterday's game against the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees were shut out. "SORE LOSS" reads the hed, over a picture of Jeter.

The New York Post: OK, it's officially gone too far. I don't think I'm the one with the dirty mind when I say the picture this headline summons up is more raunchy than anything I saw from Weiner's Blackberry: "OBAMA BEATS WEINER." I don't even think the verb "beat" here is a pun. "Beats up," "beats on" would all mean pummeling, knocking out, punching. "BEATS," used without any preposition and followed by our congressman's notoriously homophonic last name can really only be a single-entendre. At least they leave the president's grammatical solecism intact.

The dek: "'If it was me, I would resign': prez." The fun doesn't stop there! Lede text off the front begins: "Hey Weiner—pull out!" Of course, if it were I, I would resign, too. Because for god's sake, what a humiliation! But as I've mentioned before, Weiner has up to this point maintained the poise of an accomplished apologizer. In a buttonholing video posted by the Post on Friday, you can almost see how he's barreled past the tearful Weiner we saw a little over a week ago at the podium and settled in comfortably with his new normal: I'm a guy that takes randy pictures of myself and sends them to young ladies. I'm sorry! It was stupid and I won't do it again. Can you get a couple of shots of me at this angle, paparazzi? Actually nevermind: I have an even better picture in my phone.

But actually Obama went deeper than that. And though I understand why the wood has to be the quote, it seems to me that the more substantial part of Obama's statement to NBC yesterday was worth getting in there somewhere, even in a short paraphrase: "When you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to at the time when people are worrying about jobs and their mortgages and paying the bills, then you should probably step back." In other words, Weiner's not serving his constituents by staying on.

A slightly thinner tall box along the left margin mirrors the News' treatment of the Jeter story: "JETER HURT: Strains calf in loss" reads the knockout white text on a blue field.

Observations: I've long ago given up hope that small events in the Weiner storyline that lend themselves to punning will be ignored or shunted to a corner by the tabloids for their relatively low news value. And in fact, the president saying "I would resign" and "if you're distracted, or distracting, you should resign" is of somewhat less real consequence than the House speaker saying "We are asking him to leave." Still: It's the president of the United States suggesting to our congressman, not in a private communication but in a television interview, that he resign. And as compelling in a sad way (and no doubt in a way that will succeed with rubbernecking violent-crime gawkers) as this elderly woman's stabbing may be, I can't understand why it takes over the page on a day when there is Weiner news that is worth telling.

Winner: The New York Post.