Bored of the baseline rally between the mayor and the protesters, the ‘Post’ streaks onto the court

Today's tabloids, Nov. 3, 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?

New York Post:  The Post today takes the rare step of putting its editorial on the front page—the entire front page.

"ENOUGH!" reads the enormous headline in knockout-white, black-outlined type over a photo of Zuccotti Park full of ugly plastic tarps in blue and orange that are the makeshift tents being used by camping protesters.

"POST EDITORIAL" is in a red box with white type; the long dek, set in quite large type, reads: "Mr. Mayor, it is time to reclaim Zuccotti Park—and New York City's dignity." A box with lede text begins "Time's up: The Zuccotti Park vagabonds have had their say—and trashed lower Manhattan—for long enough."

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From the editorial:

"What began as a credible protest against bank bailouts, crony capitalism and the like has, in large measure, been hijacked by crazies and criminals."

Actually it began, according to the Post's own news report of Sept. 18 (Sept. 19 in print editions), as few more than 300 protesters, "mostly college kids and aging hippies." The "so-called global 'Day of Rage'" was "anemic," so much so that police barricades set up in the neighborhood were "hardly needed."

It then became something that attracted union leaders, politicians and celebrities, and resulted in clashes with police that have included a pepper-spray incident that put one white-shirt on desk duty.

That's when the Post really started assigning reporters, mostly to report on the vagrants that were getting in on the action (free food, tents, safety: And why not?) Drug dealers and gropers made their way into the park, in the ongoing Post narrative, which now oddly was speaking on behalf of "legitimate" protesters against advantage-seeking bums.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, a quiet game of hot potato has been taking place between the park's private owners, Brookfield Properties, and the city. A plaintive letter from Brookfield to the police commissioner and the mayor asking for help clearing the park for cleaning, and rewriting the rules to make it an evictable offense to bring in camping gear, led to a Bloomberg announcement that protesters would have to leave; at the 11th hour, the cleanup was cancelled and hasn't materialized again since.

It's a dynamic the Post waddles into in its editorial. And it's of interest here mostly because it is the mayor the Post is calling upon.

They "respect the right of Brookfield Properties, owner of the park, to permit the protests," something they have technically done, though their letter to the city makes it clear they're not doing it because they want to provide a service to the occupiers, but because they don't have the ability to clear the park out. (How could they have it?)

"Brookfield does itself no great honor by pretending to be satisfied with the status quo," reads the paper.

(Have they pretended to be satisfied, or merely not complained publicly about the lack of action from the city and the New York Police Department?)

More confusion:

"[Passing] the buck to City Hall solves nothing. Mayor Bloomberg & Co. have essentially been hiding behind the fact that Zuccotti Park is not city property."

So, who is passing the buck?

"What’s needed right now is mayoral leadership," the Post concludes, and a clearing of the park.

Daily News: As the News would have it, the mayor is indeed getting tough. "MIKE GETS TOUGH" is in fact the headline, set in knockout-white on a black field. "Tells occupiers: Stop messing with nabe or else."

What he actually said was:

“No one should think that we won’t take actions that we think are appropriate when we think they are appropriate.”

The mayor's mild chorus began some time ago; he's gone back and forth a bit on the damage he believes the protests are doing to the neighborhood (at one point even saying it might be a tourist attraction, and a net benefit to the city).

The paper reports that Brookfield "backed down" under pressure from local elected officials in its planned sweep of the park a few weeks ago. But remember the source on the initial report that sympathetic local officials had put pressure on Brookfield: the mayor's office.

The local community board, chaired by Julie Menin, had been negotiating with the protesters to keep neighborhood conditions from deteriorating too far. But it's a very public-facing community board, which would have been loath to be the cause of a messy or possibly even violent confrontation between protesters and police. Condemning the protests was never a plausible position for liberal local electeds, nor for Menin.

Brookfield's security team can't be expected to clear the park on its own.

And what would it look like if there were a Kent State situation at the park if the city and the NYPD heeded Brookfield's request and cleared the park themselves? Not good for Bloomberg, not good for Ray Kelly.

The day before yesterday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents the district where Zuccotti Park is located, started complaining about conditions in the neighborhood on his own. In other words: The mayor's office has someone to share the blame, or at least a victim to defend, in any officials or neighborhood residents who say it's time to stop cutting deals with the protesters and tell them to leave. The question really is, is that enough?

For visual interest: A photo of the rescue of a construction worker in a building collapse. The photo shows two grim-faced firemen tending to the man, wincing in pain and in a neckbrace, as he's brought onto an ambulance.

Observations: At this point, watching the official reaction to the occupation is a bit like a not-interesting game of tennis. You can write an article each time you hear the racket hit the ball from the middle of each side of the net at a slow speed with predictable results. A seemingly endless rally without challenge or excitement.

Or you can enter the game yourself and try to muck stuff up.

The protests can't go on forever, but they won't stop on their own, either. Whatever one thinks of the ongoing demonstration in the park, it will result in a confrontation sometime or another. The only questions are how bad will it be, and who will be blamed for it.

Another article about the mayor's musings on the relative merits or demerits of the continuing protests is, almost by definition, not front-page news. The Post tactic, to take the reins, as ham-fisted as the result may be, is more compelling.

Winner: The New York Post.