Casting Sarah Palin in a cat fight, and proving her point better than she ever could

Today's tabloids, April 2, 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: A mystery surrounding the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket in Maryland is the source of the Post's top front-page feature this morning: "Mega mystery" reads the pale-yellow, black-outlined and drop-shadowed text in the blue box that takes up the top half of the wood. To the right is a picture of 37-year-old McDonald's employee Mirlande Wilson, snapped on her way to church by Post stringer William Farrington, who also shares the byline on the article inside, where it's billed as an "EXCLUSIVE." (It isn't billed that way on the front.) The dek is two bullet points: "She says she's got winning ticket," and "Co-workers say she's cheating them."

It's a complicated story, if it's even really quite a story yet. The Post's sources at the restaurant boil down to a man named Allen who says he is the boyfriend of the store manager, who would only identify herself as Layla and who would not speak to reporters. The account from Allen says that a group from the store bought tickets in a pool; the list of names of participants and the tickets purchased were put in a safe at the restaurant. But the manager then gave Wilson five more dollars to purchase more tickets at the last minute; those tickets are not in the safe. Wilson says that beside that she purchased tickets for herself, and the winning numbers are on her personal ticket, not "part of the group plan."

One of the problems with this mystery is that it seems infinitely solvable, unless Wilson purchased those last five dollars of pool tickets in the same transaction as she purchased tickets for herself (and assuming everyone here is telling the truth, and has access to the facts, which is a pretty big assumption). The Post makes reference to the famous case of "New Jersey lottery louse Americo Lopes, who tried to screw five former colleagues after hitting a $24 million jackpot before a jury ordered him to spread the wealth," but it doesn't immediately appear that similar. Those tickets locked up in the safe are certainly in the "group plan," and if the winning ticket matches numbers on tickets in that safe, then Wilson clearly must share. If the tickets she purchased at the behest of the manager with the five dollars were purchased in a separate transaction from the ones she purchased for herself, then that also will be clearly solvable. And if she purchased them in the same transaction, then it's fairly clearly the case that nothing can be done to recover the group's fortune. They trusted her to keep their tickets separate from her own tickets, and she says that it was her personal ticket that had the winning numbers.

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But there's another "EXCLUSIVE" on the front page, this time billed as such on the wood: "CRISIS COVERUP" reads the provocative big-black text in the white box that takes the bottom half of the page. "Bombshell 911 report city is hiding," is the underlined dek. No, it's not a "bombshell 9-11 report" the city is accused of hiding. It's about emergency-response systems.

After the Christmas blizzard of 2010, the mayor ordered a report from a Washington-area consulting firm to study how 911 calls are processed; the report has been complete for some time, but has yet to be made public. Josh Margolin says that on Feb. 24, fire department communications director Gerard Neville testified in a long-standing labor case involving the FDNY labor unions and the city that the report had been released some time before but not made public. "Everyone's heard of that report," Neville testified. "That's like a best-seller — but no one's ever seen it."

The reason the report was quashed, according to Margolin's source, is that it shows the city in a state of appeasement over several bungled choices it made in updating call-responding technology and protocol, mostly to placate police commissioner Ray Kelly's department. A new $2 billion 911 system has actually increased response times, according to the report; nonemergency police calls are not routed to the successful 311 call-processing centers, because of NYPD possessiveness over the calls; disagreements between the fire and police departments resulted in the two purchasing and implementing separate and incompatible dispatch systems, forcing 911 to have to develop $15 million for an interface to make the systems speak to each other.

The "brawling" between the two departments has dissuaded the city from taking overall responsibility for emergency call systems, "because City Hall officials are fearful of angering Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his team."

Why is the report coming to light just now?

"On Friday, the state Supreme Court justice hearing the case ordered the city to release the document," Margolin reports. "But that directive was postponed after administration lawyers made a last-minute appeal."

Daily News: So, we already knew that Katie Couric would be guest-anchoring "Good Morning America" while Robin Roberts is on vacation this week. The show, which has perennially trailed its NBC competition, "Today" (Couric's morning-show alma mater), is as close as it's come in ages.

NBC, in true Jack Donaghy fashion, is pulling out all the stops, with guest co-hosts and celebrity guests all week including "Octomom" Nadya Suleman, Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj. The latest: Tomorrow morning, after appearing as a guest, Sarah Palin will co-host the final hour of the show. This comes from a press release.

Eager, I suppose, to cash in on the localness and the celebrity factor, the News commissioned a photo illustration of the two in a boxing ring. The illustration is executed nicely enough, but not so that it can work for a cover. The two heads are superimposed onto the bodies of what look like middleweight boxers, unfortunate in that they look pretty large to be standing bodies for two thin women. What's more, the "action shot" has the two faces kind of far away from each other, with a center area between them that is an entropic black field. It's not large enough to accommodate any type, but it's too large to sit in the dead center of the front page of a newspaper without looking like a black hole. Literally, the dead center of the page is two elbows floating in a black miasma, with the faces of the combatants pushed to the upper-right and upper-lefthand corners of the block.

The headline is ridiculous: "KAT FIGHT." (In what universe is Katie Couric referred to as "KAT"? And can we please be done with the metaphor of the cat fight when it's a matter of two women competing professionally? This isn't some feminist jab; it's actually something the public is sick enough of that it's a punchline in sitcoms dating back to "Seinfeld.")

Of course some of the energy here is supposed to come from the "explosive" interviews Couric conducted with Palin when she was John McCain's running-mate in 2010, and Palin found herself saying some silly stuff about how Alaska is the front line in the battle against Putin and the like.

Observations: I'd have a lot more to say if this News cover weren't such a colossal flop. The News, with new energy from editor Colin Myler, has been delivering a few punches to the Post, and this looks like another attempt: A big photo illustration of a buzzy public event involving two well-known characters. But the front-page makers just weren't up to the task on a Sunday night.

Winner: New York Post.