9:12 am Nov. 10, 20113
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: It's been known for some time now that the Brooklyn Museum would host the exhibit "Hide/Seek" in New York. The most controversial item in the exhibit back then was a video by the late New York artist David Wojnarowicz, called "Fire in My Belly," and the offending part of the video installation shows ants crawling on a crucifix. (Not just a cross: The bloodied, crown-of-thorns-wearing, crucified Christ is actually on the cross.) And the Brooklyn Museum has been known for some time to have been one of the more risk-taking museums in the city when it comes to potentially controversial art. Remember it was the Museum that ignited Rudy's culture war over its inclusion of a work by Chris Ofili of the Virgin Mary, adorned with elephant dung, in its late 1999 exhibition "Sensation." Giuliani had threatened back then to withdraw $7 million of city funding from the museum, which was probably never quite legally possible.
This time around it's hard to imagine Michael Bloomberg stepping into the fray. (His line is usually something along the lines of, "If you think you won't like it, don't go," and he has lately after all been talking a lot about the First Amendment in places where it doesn't even really apply.)
Anyway, if the News thought they were getting an early bead on the next city culture war I'm sure they're wrong. They've put the "outrage" of Catholics at the exhibit on their front page, though the scant dozen inches of text on Page 3 devoted to the story makes one wonder if the news desk would really have been behind the big sale. "CRUCIFIX OUTRAGE" reads the knockout-white text in a black box taking up half the page. "B'klyn Museum to host show branded sacrilegious."
(Not to get too nerdy here, but I doubt whether the Brooklyn Diocese, in its request that the video be withdrawn from the exhibition, would have used the term "sacrilege," which in Catholic teaching is the violation of a sacred object; not all religious symbols or icons or pictures are sacred, only things that are made sacred by the church, like the relic of a saint or the consecrated bread distributed at communion. But I digress! Let me know if I'm right in comments, if you're up on your ecclesiastical law.)
As for the "outrage," so far the News has documented the outrage of a spokesman for the Brooklyn Diocese, Monsignor Kieran Harrington, and 59-year-old Crown Heights resident Ginette Peterburs, who declares the video to be "not art" but whose qualifications and constituency are unspecified. Yup, that's it.
Ha, so meanwhile the Angels are singing on the upper half of the page! It's time for the annual Victoria's Secret Angels show, which you forget about every year until it happens again and women in brassieres are on the front page of your newspaper. This is when underwear that never really gets worn, one step up from Fredricks of Hollywood, gets a fashion show. (Is this sacrilege?) It's always easy to make a bad pun from the already clever name of the brand. It's almost hard to make one as bad as the one that flanks a picture of a model whose breasts are cupped in pearls and jewels and little else: "What's Victoria's Secret?"
There's little space left after yelling at people for filming ants on crosses and applauding models for dressing up as angels who are also maybe prostitutes for arguably the most watched national story, the passion of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
We caught you up yesterday on the story, in case you weren't already inundated with it. What has transpired since is that Paterno offered his resignation effective the end of the season, and the Board of Trustees responded by sacking him effective immediately, along with the university's president. But the News is, once more, trying to get ahead of news that probably popped up on your iPhone from the Times app's incredibly selective (and, to me, inscrutable) alert system, that Paterno had been fired.
Instead they man the streets of State College, Penn., and declare the crowd of students that gathered in the streets to protest the sacking of the beloved coach a riot. "PATERNO INFERNO" reads the main hed, in knockout white in a red box. "Students riot after Penn St. sacks disgraced football legend."
I doubt very much that this riot lasted very long. I suspect most students are back in their classrooms, or sleeping off last night in their extra-long dorm-beds. The News reports that the media were the main targets of what violent activity there was, including a news van that was tipped over. Bottles and rocks were thrown at reporters covering the event. Presumably students sympathetic to the coach believe that the media has manufactured the reasons for the university's sacking of Paterno. It's a sad thing, of course, because it is media scrutiny that probably was behind the university's lackadaisical response to a report from an employee that boys were being molested over a 15-year period in the university's sports facilities. Shame can exist without the invidious spotlight. At any rate, much as in the case of the Brooklyn Museum exhibit, it seems to me the News might have gotten hung up on too small an element of a very big story.
New York Post: Paterno gets a bigger and less news-ambitious headline on the front of the Post, though it's in the main news hole. "PATERNO FIRED" reads the straightforward big black type; "Penn State dumps legend over scandal." It's all covered in the sports section, and the opinions and slants are all over the board, really.
Body text reads: "Joe Paterno was sacked late last night for the biggest loss of his career. The legendary Penn State football coach, who had hoped to finish this season, was axed by the university's Board of Trustees over a shocking kid-sex scandal, along with school President Graham Spanier." Colorful, but not slanted. (There's a silhouetted picture of the old guy coming out of the lower right hand corner, with a little bit too much feathering and drop-shadowing around the edges, in my humble opinion.)
Up top, a lady in underwear! Yes, the Post also heeds the siren call of Victoria's Angels today. A supine supermodel in black lace bra and low-rise bikini bottom is stretched across the width of the half-page box under the headline "Sizzling new 'Secret.'"
Observations: Well, the Post's Victoria's Secret picture actually looks like a boudoir photograph. (Was it even taken at the show, or is it just a stock image of one of the featured outfits?) Anyway, it works a lot better. And the copy is bland but not bad, compared to "What's Victoria's Secret?" Which just makes us wonder why the News wants us to answer a question so easy. "It's a store that sells women's underthings." Then there is the question whether Paterno or this Wojnarowicz video ought to be the lead story.
I'm all for going local in the main news on the front (and it's more frequently a point in the News' favor than it is in the Post's). But I think the contrast between the news value of the predictable letter from a Brooklyn monsignor over an exhibit that comes to New York after it's already been in lots of places is too low to be salvaged by its localness. The Paterno story is big. (And he is a Brooklynite after all.)
Winner: The New York Post.