9:27 am Mar. 16, 2012
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: Groaners are good. Today's main news hed on the Post is a groaner, one of those puns that strains so hard that it elicits a groan, and an idea of a chuckle, and stays in your head all day like a tune you hear at Duane Reade in the morning and find yourself humming in your head on the way to bed.
It wasn't always this way, but American humor has moved toward bad or overtaxed punning. You see bad puns as punchlines in all the smart sitcoms. The unreconstructed bad Post pun is "in" again.
"PAY-DRO'S $CAMILY" reads the big black text at the bottom of the page, adding that dollar sign in the word "$CAMILY" for extra over-the-topness. "Used taxes on jobs for kin: feds" reads the less scrutable dek. There's a picture of disgraced ex-State Senator Pedro ("PAY-DRO") Espada, a postage-stamp really, over a bit of lede text that does the work the dek doesn't.
Yesterday, Maria Cruz, the former head of personnel at Espada's taxpayer-funded Soundview Healthcare Network in the Bronx and a witness for the prosecution in Espada's federal corruption trial, told the court Espada stocked the high end of the payroll and the board of directors with friends and relatives. Prosecutors believe this band of cronies helped Espada and themselves to extravagant personal expenses, salaries and benefits, including a $235,000 annual salary for Espada even when he was employed (and paid) as a state senator, and a severance package worth $6 to $7 million.
The Soundview Clinic provided Espada with some $500,000 of spending money, of which fully $100,000 went purely to fancy dinners; at one point Espada even tried to get the head of personnel to co-sign a loan for a Bentley, but he ended up with a more modest Mercedes-Benz. But the real point here is the pun.
NCAA basketball cracks the front page today. Well, why not? There's little enough else going on, except maybe the madness at Madison Square Garden. After yesterday's "SLAM DUMP" front (in which D'Antoni's face, photoshopped onto a basketball being netted by Carmelo Anthony, making him look a little like a more masculine Glinda floating toward Dorothy in that pink bubble) I kind of thought the Post would keep driving the Knicks storyline. But there's stuff to say about Syracuse right now, too: They're after all the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and they pulled off a squeaker against No. 16 seed U.N.C.-Asheville last night.
Most of the drama is off-court though, really. This was the season in which several of coach Jim Boeheim's players tested positive for recreational drug use, and in which his close friend and longtime assistant coach Bernie Fine was fired for molesting ball-boys in a sordid scandal that, on the heels of the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, was particularly threatening to Syracuse's reputation. Add to that the "sore winner" sheen Syracuse has developed over the last decade or so in the NCAA (and two calls against Asheville last night that many fans think were bogus), and you have just about enough drama to get going with. That it was close at all is the news, though. "Syracuse survives Madness shocker," reads the knockout-white hed over an Associated Press game photo. Here's the problem: Do very many casual readers know the names of these two players? Is March Madness as mad as it used to be? My survey of one says "no."
Daily News: Since the News is on an anti-Dolan campaign now (and thank God, one of the papers sees its role as being on the side of the fans) it can hardly drop the case against Madison Square Garden today. It's a bit of a hangover from yesterday's picture of James Dolan's picture in the center of a black-and-yellow poison-warning label in which his head replaces the skull in the skull and crossbones. If yesterday the paper was willing to call the resignation of Mike D'Antoni and the ascension of Carmelo Anthony a product of the team's "toxic" owners, today they're merely reporting, soberly, the first and most obvious piece of toxic fallout. With interim coach Mike Woodson, the offense strategy is changing, and will focus on Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, the team's expensive stars. That means that Jeremy Lin, the starting point guard who flourished but ultimately faltered under D'Antoni's system, probably fades into the background.
Now, Jeremy Lin, as a result of February's bout of "Linsanity," is known to all New Yorkers, many of whom probably don't follow Knicks coaching strategy very closely. Which is why some may be fooled into thinking Lin is literally about to be fired by the headline, which reads "LIN AND OUT: Jeremy's job in jeopardy." It's a totally unnecessary overstatement, only partially mitigated by the weird little captions in the upper corners of the box. One, on the upper left, above Lin's head, reads "Jeremy Lin is headed for the bench." On the upper right, above the head of ascendant "Woodson system" point guard Baron Davis, a little caption reads "Baron Davis is set to take Lin's spot."
Main news hed: "SOBFELLA." I have two points to make. One: Will the tabloids ever decide that after all, putting "FELLA" at the end of a word, regardless of how much that word resembles or rhymes with "GOOD," is a funny way to introduce a story about a mafioso? It's flat. My second question is this: Does the new News editor, British import Colin Myler, whose sensibility was all over yesterday's stake-burning of Jim Dolan, believe that mafia cover stories are good business for the News? If so, is it because internal circulation and survey figures show that mafia covers sell? Because he has a foreigner's fascination with the topic and imagines it's as fresh to all of us as it is to him? Or because he hasn't quite yet had the guts to decide not to put a John Marzulli story on the cover?
Don't get me wrong: the News is the winner on mafia stories, and Marzulli is a big part of the reason why. I love reading them. They make a certain sense in the News that they don't in the Post, since the News is the bigger paper in the white ethnic outer-borough and suburban enclaves where the mafia still matters. And for what it's worth, today's installment, which is really just about Gotti hit man Charles Carneglia, who is serving a life sentence for four gang-related murders, representing himself in a new appeal, also allows the News to front one of the more grisly and absorbing details about the man: that he tended to dissolve the corpses of his victims in acid, and in one case even deposited the remaining finger-bones of one of his victims in the soup of another mobster.
The problem here is that there is no real story. "Gotti's acid-killer goon grovels," reads the knockout-white dek; the lede text says he is "pleading for mercy." Really he just seems to be doing the standard jailhouse appeal, and the banter in the courtroom, into which Carneglia was patched by speakerphone from his Pennsylvania prison, doesn't sound groveling at all. Just sort of boring.
Observations: So I guess what I'm saying is: Doesn't Myler realize that Marzulli will have a real exclusive on something fun soon enough? When the Page One folks realized "SOBFELLA" was the best they were going to do, it might have caused them to go back to the drawing board. It's too bad it didn't. We're really only left with this confusing Jeremy Lin story sale. I may not like the Syracuse story for the front of the Post, but the remarkable thing today is the great groaner. I'll type it again, because I want to: "PAY-DRO'S $CAMILY." For the win.
Winner: New York Post.