9:22 am Oct. 13, 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'd been saying it would come to this. As the Occupy Wall Street protests hit the one-month mark, the park in which protesters have been camping, which is privately owned but open to the public by agreement with the city, is being cleared out Friday, ostensibly so it can be cleaned up.
It's not obvious how this will work: This morning's reports seem to suggest the park can be cleaned up in stages, and Michael Bloomberg, who visited Zuccotti Park last night to warn protesters of the clearing, seems to be suggesting they can return to the park once it's cleaned up. But the letter Brookfield wrote to police commissioner Ray Kelly requesting the assistance of the city certainly seems to advance complaints that can't be fixed with power-washers.
I'll leave all this to actual reporters, and move to another observation here: Is Bloomberg reminding anyone else of a father of teenagers? The kind who calmly endures their loud record-playing and nose-piercing escapades and refuses to be rankled by them? His visit to the park to announce to the protesters that it was getting messy and he'd like to get in there and clean it seemed so prosaic against the chants of "You are the 1 percent" it almost seemed to disarm. Reflect for a moment on how this might have gone down during Rudy Time.
"MAYOR TO PROTESTERS: CLEAN IT UP!" even sounds parental, set as dramatically as it is in knockout-white text on a black field. It's as though an aunt is visiting and all the clothes have to be picked up off the floor and put in the hamper, but the Black Flag poster, of course, can stay. You have to express yourself! The photo doesn't suffer for being from an amateur photographer (at least I draw that assumption from the blurry phone-camera-ishness of it). Like captured video stills it conveys some sort of urgency. "Visits park dwellers, tells 'em to scram so crews can scrub campsite."
Meanwhile, flying in from the West Coast bureau is Scarlett Johansson, all hourglass-shaped in green lace with a sweetheart neckline and tousled locks. "NO NUDES IS GOOD NUDES!" reads the strangely styled text: Yellow-to-green gradient fill, black outline and drop shadow, and skewed at an angle. You only need to read the lede paragraph: "The FBI says it has busted the hacker who stole sexy snaps of uber-sexy Hollywood sirens Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis." Sexy!
New York Post: But is it as sexy as Ashton Kutcher's attempted ménage-a-trois in a San Diego hotel suite on Sept. 24?
22-year-old Sara Leal didn't spill her guts to the Post but to Us Weekly, it's important to note here. The wild night's details are actually a little bit biological at times and, frankly, depressing to read. The fallout for Kutcher's marriage to actor Demi Moore is likewise unclear. So what is the sale? Leal in a bikini top, hair pushed up by her sunglasses, sun shining on her face, silhouetted against a green-to-blue gradient backdrop that carries the text "My steamy night of passion with Ashton," leaving room for a postage-stamp-sized headshot of Kutcher.
Just as sad but a little more important arguably is the passion of Barbara Sheehan. You know her as the woman who killed her cop husband in a hail of 11 bullets from two of his own guns. She was supported by lots of testimony in her contention that the killing was self-defense and followed decades of physical and psychological abuse at his hands; the jury cleared her of the murder rap but on one of the weapons charges they dealt her a conviction that could see her serving two and a half years in prison. She was not remanded but given a few days to get her affairs in order, and broke down in tears as she left for jail yesterday; her lawyers say she has developed an anxiety disorder for which she's taking medication. The picture of her looks miserable. "Killer wife's agony" reads the knockout white text across the bottom of the picture.
Neither of these is billed as the main news story on the front of the Post today; as we know that distinction belongs to whatever is rendered in huge bold black text, which today reads "TOLL VAULT." It has to be a pun on "pole vault" though it's unclear to me where "pole vault" gets us metaphorically.
"Truck trick a license to 'steal'" reads the dek. The scare quotes around "steal" don't seem necessary to me, since what the story describes really actually is stealing.
What are we talking about? "A big-rig driver was busted at the George Washington Bridge after pulling a trick worthy of James Bond—pulling a cord that made his license plate disappear just as he passed under the E-Z Pass toll camera, sources told The Post yesterday." The Port Authority tells the Post they lost $14 million in revenue in 2009 and 2010 from "toll cheats." It's an exclusive.
Observations: It's quite obvious to me that the biggest story in New York today is the mayor's announcement about Occupy Wall Street. Why it's not on the front page of the Post is what we have to figure out.
It's not that they didn't have the story in time for this morning's editions; the venerable City Hall bureau chief David Seifman had it last night.
It's that they kind of hate the story altogether and don't particularly want to martyr the demonstrators, maybe. But it also maybe means that they're quite decided that the mayor's announcement doesn't actually mean the permanent break-up of the camp. They're right to quote Brookfield saying "the protesters will be able to return to the areas that have been cleaned, provided they abide by the rules." The problem is it's clear that Brookfield's position is that they are not actually abiding by the rules: "The manner in which the protesters are occupying the Park violates the law, violates the rules of the Park," it reads in part.
It's a judgment call, really, whether to play this story with the significance it deserves if this is the end-game unfolding or the significance it deserves if I need to pick up my sleeping bag so a guy with a broom and dustbin can sweep under it.
In theory, the Post can also justify its position affirmatively: There is bigger news, they might argue. But it can't be that sad Barbara Sheehan, sexy Ashton Kutcher and tricksy truck driver are that.
Points off both for carrying recycled distant celebrity news, but if it comes to that: Even though the News story about the ScarJo hacker is today's news, press-released by the F.B.I., Ashton Kutcher belongs in that category of stars who makes a front page with nothing to offer really but his face. I think lots of people will want to read this sordid tale who won't get it in Us Weekly.
Still, it's not enough to keep the Post from looking like they sleepwalked through today's paper.
Winner: Daily News.