Busting Liu, Snooki’s bust, and a sleepy photo of a mobster who used to be ‘gorgeous’

Today's tabloids, Feb. 29, 2012. ()
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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: There are several kinds of great headlines for tabloids, and the Post has always been among the great practitioners of the form. Today, one kind comes to the surface: Without being explicitly dirty, it's ... graphic, and mean.

It's "Jersey spore!" Yes, it's about Nicole (Snooki) Polizzi, star of the popular MTV reality show Jersey Shore, and the news from Page Six is that she is, indeed, pregnant. Next to a picture of her in a cleavage-cleaving bikini top, there's the Page Six logo and a dek that reads "Snooki pregnant—and wants to cash in on kid."

Now, this is not quite a clean break. The notion that Snooki was pregnant first took hold in a report in Star magazine, as the Page Six item itself explains; Snooki denied the rumor then in an appearance on the "Opie & Anthony" show. The real advance in the Page Six report is an anonymously sourced claim that she was lying then, and that in fact she has been attempting to make a deal to come clean with several magazines, finally landing a deal with Us. Page Six also reports that the news has sent MTV into a tailspin, since they have just started filming a new spinoff show in which Snooki and her friend Jenni "JWoww" Farley live together in a converted Jersey City firehouse, presumably to party their way through their young 20s together for the cameras. Pregnancy could scotch the magic, sources seem to indicate to Page Six. We'll see how many more back-and-forths Snooki can get on this before her P.R. plans fall to pieces altogether.

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Less in doubt was yesterday's news that city comptroller John Liu's campaign treasurer was indicted by the feds for shady fund-raising practices. Here the Post decides to riff on a quote from St. Paul's first letter to Timothy: "FILTHY LIU-CRE" reads the main hed, in big black type in a thick black box. There's a smallish picture of the comptroller next to a dek that reads: "Feds bust reeling pol's treasurer in campaign '$cam'."

The scare-quotes around "$cam" are a bit of self-protection: His treasurer, Jia (Jenny) Hou, has been accused by the feds, who in the indictment they released provided lots of fodder for a press prosecution, including electronic messages in various formats to real donors and straw donors alike instructing them on how to help the campaign avoid scrutiny for skirting individual campaign-contribution limits, including attempting to replicate the handwriting of straw donors, sending money orders with nonconsecutive serial numbers and more. But since this is still only an accusation by prosecutors, the quotes are needed for the sake of ... objectivity. It's a practice the paper may as well drop, since "FILTHY LIU-CRE" probably also would need scare quotes if the paper were to be consistent. Nevertheless, it's a good one.

Now I'm trying to figure out what happened with the left-hand sidebar. I'll stipulate that everyone knows cute pets get readers. But cute pets is not a hard beat: If you wanted cute pets on your front page, you could have them, every single day. Why did we need one today? Lists also sell, and this is, in theory, a list: The American Kennel Club released its list of the top purebreds registered with the association in New York this past year, and the results, unsurprisingly, are that small yippy dogs that fit in small apartments dominate, with an exception for certain retriever breeds and the Rottweiler. But lists, too, can happen any day.

One of the reasons this struck me as odd is that a perfectly timely story that accomplishes roughly the same thing was readily available to them: The mother and daughter, whom the Post first profiled last leap year, both born on Feb. 29. They check in on the birthday festivities and brought along a photographer, too. For the kind of front-page "good news" glurge the paper was probably looking for to help wash off Snooki and the "crook," it seems a little less random. Anyway, here's a Yorkshire terrier (favorite of Post columnist Cindy Adams) under the headline "NYC's top 10 dogs."

Daily News: Here's a thing about "exclusive" photos: They are interesting as exclusives when the photos are actually interesting, and not gettable anywhere else. Photos of disasters, of crimes in process, photos documenting facts not yet reported elsewhere—photos of stars doing lines of cocaine, or kissing their not-spouses on a beach, or terrible accident victims post-plastic surgery, or conjoined twins—you get the idea. The exclusive is not in itself what makes it interesting; it just highlights the achievement of being the only venue in which to see something everyone wants to see.

The photo that takes up much of today's Daily News is a glamor shot of convicted gangster Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano taken at the Colorado prison in which he is presently incarcerated. The conceit is supposed to be that he looks great, though I would challenge the vast majority of readers to identify Basciano from a picture taken before he went to prison.

Mob stories are great stories, as everyone knows. But little facts about the prison life of mobsters already long off the block aren't. And photos that only show him waving at the camera, before a bland beige floor and wall, are not compelling front-page photography. I don't care that it's exclusive; it's like the front page of my Daily News today has a Facebook profile photo of a distant cousin of mine. The headline, "Still Gorgeous," is also a weird choice, to me. It's as though they decided not to put it in all caps because on some level they knew the story didn't deserve that kind of oversell. They're probably right.

You might think with yesterday being a pretty good local news day the News would have found a way to get something in about the teacher reports, or about John Liu's treasurer, or something. But instead, a blue box with a silhouette of Mitt Romney lands with the thudding headline "MITT TAKES MICH., ARIZ." And a story about Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine's razzing of the Yankees yesterday during a spring training interview has a similar picture of him under the words "BOBBY SOX YANKS." It's a pun, I guess, on "bobby socks," for what it's worth. The whole thing is a snooze.

Observations: No contest today.

Winner: New York Post.