Donors and volunteers send rice and beans to Zuccotti Park, but it might as well be caviar

Today's tabloids, Oct. 19, 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: Whether they are grimy hippies and college students whose rent back home is being paid by Mom and Mom or secretly homeless criminals with a penchant for petty theft in crowds, they ought to be on a diet of granola and Skippy, right?

That seems to be the underlying premise that generates the shock value the Post sees in today's cover story. The whole page is taken up with it. "WHINE & DINE" is the rather brilliant headline; the art department has worked up a fancy menu graphic with wedding-script type that reads "Chez Zuccotti," and a "menu" listing some of the many things chef Eric Smith has been cooking up for 1,000-plus hungry protesters each evening from Monday through Saturday. (Presumably on Sunday you hoof it to the parents' for pot roast and apple pie.)

Of course I for one would be a bit horrified to be handed this menu at an actual restaurant. "Brown rice with black beans and fresh herbs" sounds like regular old rice and beans to me, for instance. "Protesters eat like kings," reads the text at the top of the page.

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What's really going on here is that a bunch of sympathetic farms have organized to provide ingredients to the protest, a local preacher has given them use of his soup kitchen to prepare meals, and a former chef from the Midtown Sheraton (laid off and presently teaching and catering to pay his bills) and a staff of volunteers he's directing are cooking them. The food is shipped to the park nightly.

The trap is that these farmers and this chef and this minister are quite proud of themselves! And so you get lines inside the piece like, "The other day, we made some wonderful salmon cakes with dill sauce and some quinoa salad and a wonderful tomato salad with fennel and red onion." It's the oldest trick in the book: In the mouth of a chef anything can sound fancy. The old way was just to use foreign words: Anyone care for a tartine of emmentaler and jambon de paris on pain de seigle? The new way is to talk about sourcing. On the Chez Zuccotti menu: "Dessert of fresh mixed nuts with banana chips from a grain co-op in Ithaca." Sounds like trail mix to me!

A strip across the bottom touts 2011's Liberty Medal winners, celebrated last night. 

Daily News: After all the talk about Occupy Wall Street I wasn't sure at first glance what the headline "TAKING BACK OUR STREETS" with a sort of gentle-giant mock-angry tough-guy pictured in a Yankee cap, arms folded and looking right at me, was all about. Then I read the dek: "This neighborhood hero cornered a purse-snatching punk—as cops nab perv eyed in six Brooklyn gropes."

The stories are not really related: Oscar O'Bar stopped a purse-snatching in East New York and pursued the alleged assailant, with neighbors joining him, until the man was trapped at a dead end in a backyard. Police arrested him for the purse-snatching. The same day elsewhere in Brooklyn, police arrested a man who they think is the perpetrator in six of the Brooklyn sexual assaults, making him a sort of majority player in what had started to look like an outbreak.

It's pretty clear the arrest does not remove the threat, which has provoked an ambitious neighborhood response, including the Safe Slope Safe Walk program and others. But the News is onto a very different sort of general feeling here: That crime prevention is increasingly a task neighborhood groups are taking on themselves, and that the actions of civilians are a response to a general feeling that the streets are getting unsafe.

It's been a while since that spirit was activated; as someone who has been more than once a victim of violent crime even as I had to acknowledge the statistics showed the city was significantly safer than the one I'd grown up in, I'm personally all for this.

Observations: My personal distaste for the brand of fun the Post is trying to have notwithstanding, it's nothing different from what I'd expect, and it's generally a winning formula, as depressing as that may be.

This is demonstrated by the popularity of yesterday's Journal piece by Doug Schoen, the old Bloomberg pollster, on Occupy Wall Street, in which 200 Zuccotti Park protesters were surveyed about their political attitudes to provide fuel for Schoen's irresistible (if puzzlingly inaccurate) characterization of the protesters as kooks and useful idiots with the freedom to burn their cultural capital as if they were throwing greenbacks in the crackling wood-burning fire of a Greenwich Village townhouse sitting room. It's gold, really.

The News does admirably well catering to its readers, too: Boroughs folks fed up with the crime they continue to see even as footage on NY1 has forced them to watch endless bouts of mutual congratulations between police chief Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It's not that they haven't done well on crime; it's that there's a sentiment that the benefits of these reductions isn't equally distributed.

What it boils down to for me is exciting your base. I think the Post did it better for their people today than the News did it for theirs, even if I might wish it had been the reverse.

Winner: The New York Post.