10:45 am May. 24, 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?
Daily News: Presumably there's no news today about John Travolta or about the early sexual history of that guy from the Secret Service who stiffed the Colombian prostitute, leaving the News free to nurse other, new obsessions. Among them: The prospect of a sale of the New York Yankees. Of course it's possible, the way anything is possible. The story gets a two-page spread in the sports section, the back cover, and an additional column from Mike Lupica encouraging Hal Steinbrenner to consider selling. But there's no "exclusive" label on it, despite the fact that nobody else has reported that this is even in the air. I think because it's not actually a story.
Here are the nuts and bolts: "Multiple baseball and finance sources have told the Daily News they are hearing that the team ... could be put on the block." Then there's a denial from Yankee president Randy Levine, and then there's a paragraph that begins "However ..." and proceeds to name other reasons a sale might suit the Steinbrenners, not reasons the paper believes they are actively seeking buyers. That's it. Yes, it's a hearsay story.
There are reasons to do this. If the reporters genuinely believe that a sale is in the works, for reasons they can't yet put in print, a speculative story, one that hinges on that word "could," is, strictly speaking, kosher. That's not to say it's not presented in good faith, because the News knows perfectly well that readers will draw the conclusion the paper has evidence of an active effort to sell the team.
It seems to me to be a symptom of the tabloid war. If these rumors really are "flying" then everyone is trying to report them. If someone ever does, whether it's the News or someone else, the News report will be hailed retroactively as a news break. It's minor-league journalism.
"BUY, BUY, GEORGE?" reads the headline, in knockout-white text over a photomontage with the Yankees logo, and the silhouetted heads of the late George Steinbrenner and Derek Jeter (one is dead, and the other doesn't own the team, but faces make news!). "YANKEES SALE RUMORS SWIRL." I often think that if you are tempted to write a headline that asks a yes/no question, it's worth looking at the story again to see whether it actually says anything. And "SWIRL" as the main verb for what the tabloid is describing is certainly subpar. They're certainly swirling now!
"GOTTI KILLED US" is the other big news hed. Above the thick black text, a line of red that reads "MOB RAT BLASTS THE DON." The "rat" in question is Peter Zaccaro (known as Bud), a henchman who's spent the last few years as a government witness in efforts to lower his sentence. Yesterday's testimony is embedded in another case but its probative value was not what interested newspapers today. Rather, its Zaccaro's complaints that John Gotti, the "Dapper Don," was a publicity hound who "ruined" the mob by making its ways publicly known.
Last but not least: "DANGER IN YOUR JEANS!" (If they're too tight, you'll get circulatory problems. Yup, it's disappointing.) "DANGER" is styled as if it were stamped by an inspector on a box of defective meat.
New York Post: "YAPPER DON" is the Post's version of the Zaccaro headline, a big improvement over "GOTTI KILLED US." "Gabby Gotti ruined the mob, Gambino says."
All's quiet on the Yankee front today: Sports is repped on the front page only by a thin blue strip at the bottom with text that reads "DO OR DIE FOR RANGERS AS DEVILS TAKE 3-2 LEAD."
So where is the emotional-celebrity-sex appeal element of the page coming from? Kerry Kennedy, younger sister to Robert Kennedy Jr. and longtime friend of Mary Richardson Kennedy, who committed suicide last week, writes a first-person column about depression. It's short, and it's a little bit short on nuance. Most of it explains how Mary Kennedy suffered from depression and that it's really, really hard to live with. But some lines stood out as just plain strange: Mary should not be classified as a "lunatic, villain or victim," and "she didn't ask for this disease, she never deserved it, and she took every step" to keep it under control, as did her estranged husband, in her estimation.
No one really said otherwise about Mary. But Mary's family has said otherwise about the Kennedys, that Mary was estranged from the family these last two years because of her depression and related alcoholism. Kerry Kennedy appears to have wanted to write an appeal to the reader to be sensitive to depression and to its sufferers, and to lobby for more research and development for cures and treatments. But it will read to Kennedy-haters as an attempt to shore up the family's reputation, which is a losing battle. I hope the Post has turned off the commenting on the online version.
Observations: It's always annoying when newsmakers are given their own space to write in the pages of the papers. If their unvarnished message were what we were after, especially in the age of social networks, newspapers would really be unnecessary. But it is, I suspect, a draw: "My best pal Mary" is the headline. "Kerry Kennedy's touching tribute." I mean, it may be 2012, but these are still the Kennedys. And "YAPPER DON" is just a great headline.
The question this morning is whether the speculative piece, which is cynical newsstand doublespeak from top to bottom, has done its job. I think it almost could have. But the treatment is too abstract, and the space is shared too much with the Gotti story, for it to have the impact it does, for instance, on the back page, where the headline is "THE $3B QUESTION." If they'd had the guts to chuck everything else from the front page and give us a giant stadium on the front with that headline and a crystal-clear dek, they'd have been in business. Perhaps the thing that stayed their hand was a little bit of queasiness about the weakness of the story. That should have been a reason not to run it, but having decided to run it, it's just weak not to fight hard to win with it.
Winner: New York Post.