The story of Michael Jackson’s ‘Dr. Death’ is more interesting than Michael Jackson’s deathbed photo

Today's tabloids, Sept. 28, 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?

The New York Post: Warning: Lots of fun inside!

That's basically what the Post seems to be saying with the red strip that appears across the top of its front page today. A black and yellow snipe along the left, with ominous-looking tromp-l'oeil stencil-letters, offers the "WARNING" next to a line in knockout white that reads, "Graphic photo inside: Michael Jackson on his deathbed."

In fact, that "warning" would probably induce me, personally, to pick up the News instead. But do not mistake the purpose here: The Post thinks, probably correctly, that most people will do the opposite.

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I'm having a bit of a hard time determining why this photo isn't just on the front page, though, if it's such a great sell. Is it possible that the paper really believes it transgresses upon good taste?

Anyway, bad rich kids take most of the front page. Specifically, a young man from Long Island (a recent graduate of Great Neck North High School) who took money in exchange for taking the all-important S.A.T. college admission exam, with fake IDs bearing their pictures and the unidentified students who'd paid him to take the tests in their places. Only one of the people involved in the case is above 18, so only one name—Sam Eshaghoff—was released to the press. He could face up to four years in prison.

The story really isn't about the crime, which is pretty small potatoes; it's about our obsession with the competitive college-admissions process, and our doubts about its efficacy in identifying the best candidates.

When some brats subvert the system, it's big news for lots of people. But not big enough, apparently, that the Post's pun-makers were called to action.

Online the headline is "'HIRE' ED." But on the front page, all we get is "SAT EXAM SCAM: Brainiac took te$t for kids."

Daily News: Where that "graphic" photo the Post is warning you about actually comes from, of course, is yesterday's testimony in the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, whom Jackson family members accuse of deliberately administering a lethal overdose to the King of Pop. And so the News takes the wider trial-coverage angle, with the bottom half of the page in black with knockout-white text that reads "JACKO'S DR. DEATH," and a dek that reads "Doc's greed, neglect killed pop star, state charges." Don't you think this is an easier sell than a gross picture?

But that's where things stop getting effective on the cover of the News this morning. On the top left, pop star Rihanna is shown in a denim two-piece outfit, next to the headline "Just call her O'Rihanna!" What's all this about?

In Bangor, Northern Ireland (an area the Irish press is pointing to as a bastion of old-guard Presbyterianism), the farmer who had agreed to let her film a video on his land found he objected to her outfit, a bikini top made of red bandana fabric, with jeans falling off around her hips and a giant flannel shirt over the top. Not exactly her most revealing outfit, though the farmer says he's not broadly familiar with her work. She and her crew were sent packing. But it's worth pointing out that the actual outfit she was wearing, and the barley field behind her, is all over the Internet, and a fully available photo. Why use this random photo where she's in a crowd, wearing an outfit that is not the one the farmer objected to?

There's a teaser for a Yankees poster the paper is putting out tomorrow, too. 

And then across the top of the page, where contest prizes are usually advertised, an actual story—that looks a lot like the usual contest-prize ad.

"YAKETY YAK!: Cell phone service spawns obnoxious subway chatter." You already know what the story is.

Observations: I think the Post makes a mistake not just putting the picture on the front that they're using to sell the package, or else using some of the truly shocking details from the prosecutor's opening arguments to sell it if the picture really is too disturbing for them; what they've done instead is squander a surefire newsstand hit. I may dislike most of the News' other decisions today, and sentimentally approve of blowing up a Long Island S.A.T. scandal; but really, Michael Jackson is the story to win.

Winner: Daily News.