The Post fronts ‘wharf rats,’ but not Jermaine Jackson or pro-Israel Obama

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Today's tabloids, March 5, 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: Let's start with the big news headline in the box on the lower right: "WHARF RATS" reads the big, black type; a dek reads "'Low-show' jobs net mob kin 400G pay."

It's worth going inside first. It basically looks like a "Freedom of Information Act" request story; a newspaper asks for documents from a government agency, then combs through them to find stories. In this case, the FOIA request was lodged with the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, a bistate regulatory agency with its own police division that was created in 1953 to root out private corruption on New York's harbor-front. Of course, as happens often enough when a totally independent agency with its own police force is created to dismantle entrenched mob business in a complex business, the Waterfront Commission itself was found by the New York State Inspector General's office in 2009 to be extensively corrupt, and most of the executives there were cleared out. The union that controls labor negotiations on behalf of workers on the waterfront, the International Longshoremen's Association, is presently being sued by the federal government for mafia ties; the New York Shipping Association is the umbrella group for the ship terminals.

So here's the deal: The Shipping Association keeps asking for earmarks from the Port Authority to pay out labor contracts, and the Waterfront Commission is supposed to be investigating any foul play. The Post found records of massive "no-show" and "low-show" jobs being doled out to relatives of known mafia figures, many making more than $400,000 a year on overtime that is almost impossible to figure mathematically at the union rate of $30-$36 per hour. There's lots of detail about how the scam works. But what is most important here is the fact that a series of quotes from Port Authority commissioner Pat Foye are carried in the article, which is billed as an exclusive.

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It's a great story, and I don't mean at all to diminish the investigative work. But one must wonder why, if these arrangements are so odious to the Port Authority, the Port Authority didn't just have a press conference. Foye was recently appointed to the top spot at the Port by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after he and New Jersey governor Chris Christie ganged up on Chris Ward, the previous Port Authority chief, over what they believed was overspending on the development of the World Trade Center site. (The site is controlled by the Port Authority.) Since Ward's exit the governor has been on something of a campaign to show how effective his administration has been in reining in spending at the authority, and this investigation by the Post provides the perfect opportunity to promote a general impression of Foye as a take-no-prisoners tough guy who is reinventing the dirty authority just weeks into his position.

Foye, the executive director of the Waterfront Commission and a lawyer for one of the employees (Ralph Gigante) whose pay is being singled out by the Post, are all quoted. The Post asserts without attributing the information to a source that the authority "has told container terminals to rein in their staggering labor costs before holding their hands out for public money." What form that "telling" took, besides Foye telling it to the Post, is unspecified, so it's unclear what effect it might actually have on the whole situation.

At spring training, New York Met David Wright "tweaked" his left ribcage. The Mets are being careful about working him too hard in the pre-season Grapefruit League play in Florida, since the Mets are generally in trouble and generally can't afford next season to have a long injured list. "Nothing's going Wright" reads the big text in a box with Wright's Major League Baseball portrait; considering all the offseason action in the Mets' executive offices, this "tweaked ribcage" almost seems to me like a banality though. For what it's worth, in very Sunday-for-Monday fashion, the text is styled in the Mets colors: Orange with a thick cobalt-blue outline.

I'm similarly confused by a tiny box at the lower left with a picture of Whitney Houston. "Diva's secret affair," reads the black text under the picture. They neglect to say on the front that the affair in question happened in the early '80s and was between an unmarried Houston and the quite married Jermaine Jackson. This was all published in the Sun in the U.K. in this morning's editions.

Daily News: Doesn't it seem like it might make sense to highlight that fact? The News does, carrying the story in a thin red banner above the flag that reads "WHITNEY'S AFFAIR WITH JERMAINE," with a dek below that reads "REPORT: HOUSTON AND JACKSON WERE LOVERS."

But the main piece is a Sandy Rubenstein special. I'll just repeat what I wrote on Feb. 22 about him: "The civil-rights attorney (who advertises during daytime television advising viewers to reach him at 1-800-447-HURT) has won major settlements in high-profile cases like the police abuse of Abner Louima, the shooting of Sean Bell, and many others. He's one of those names that appears constantly in city tabloids without ever being bold-faced. That he's behind this settlement almost makes it not news."

But then I was talking about a stop-and-frisk settlement. Today's story, provided exclusively to the News, is about Tabitha Mullings, the Brooklyn woman whom reporter john Marzulli has been covering for nearly four years, since Rubenstein took on the case. The appalling story, in a nutshell: Mullings went to the hospital with pain; she was diagnosed with a kidney stone and sent home. The pain worsened and she called 911 twice for emergency assistance. Fire Department medics would not take her to the hospital. When her fiancé got her there the next day, she'd been found to have developed a septic condition that spread to her extremities, and her lower legs and both hands were amputated. She sued the hospital and the city, and just won an out-of-court settlement with both that totaled $17.9 million. "18M FOR LIFE OF PAIN" reads the gigantic headline. "Brooklyn mom settles with city, hospital."

In a new move for the News as far as I can see, the dek is underlined; it's common in British tabloids and in the Post but I never see it in the News. In fact the whole look of this thing is more British: the word "EXCLUSIVE" is much bigger and the posed photo of Mullings, looking straight at the camera with a serious but inscrutable expression that is compelling and yet can be used over and over again if necessary, is also a British tabloid staple. The fingerprints of Colin Myler, the News' newly-imported editor and former editor of Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid, News of the World, is also all over the first ten pages of the paper, the main news hole, as its called. Spreads are everywhere, as are cutout silhouettes popping into the text, giant black boxes with giant underlined knockout-white text surrounded by a jagged array of photos and silhouettes taking up much of the page with a thin scroll of regular black-on-white text beneath that constitutes the actual article.

Also kind of new for the News is to take an international news item involving Israel for the front. An actual Israeli flag flies atop a black column along the lefthand side of the page. "OBAMA TO ISRAEL: 'I GOT YOUR BACK.'"

It's not really a direct quote, but it flows into the two-page spread about Obama's Sunday speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. There is a giant info graphic accompanying the spread showing how American missile capability can take out Iranian nuclear bunkers faster than Israelis can, so the prospect of cautioning Israel to wait a little longer to see if Iran will comply with international requests to allow a United Nations audit of their nuclear program must be accompanied, essentially, with a promise to use that technology against the country. This might have been a great story for the Post, which is supposed to be the tabloid that owns Israel issues in New York, but for the impossibility of reconciling this narrative, in this election year, with their broader view of Obama as a quisling suck-up to Israel's enemies.

Observations: Myler is good. That much is clear. Also, you'll see through various Mondays I've written this column that the day is a traditional weak spot for both papers; it's compiled over the course of two days when both papers' staffs are at a minimum, and when little news happens. The "Sunday-for-Monday" paper is understood inside both tabloids to be a different proposition with a necessarily lower bar. It looks to me like the News is trying to muscle in there. I don't see really any Sunday-for-Monday material on the front of the News, but a half-page for David Wright's "tweaked" left ribcage is certainly in the genre. It ruins the front page; and it's too bad because "WHARF RATS," whatever I may think I see in the sausage-making, is a great and important piece; as an "exclusive" it's more impressive than a Sandy Rubenstein special, most days of the week. The Post just didn't make a three-course meal of it on the front, and that's what we're all about here.

Winner: Daily News.