12:34 pm Sep. 5, 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?
"SHE'S A HIT!" says the Daily News. "Michelle wows 'em with speech of her life." And all that in a "stunning" custom-made dress that was only $450! There's a little sticker-like graphic with the usual slanty letters, red and blue and stars touting a three-page package on the DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, something that didn't crack the front page of the paper during the Republican version. This is dutiful, old-fashioned newspapering about the conventions: Treat them like they are huge, and enthuse about everything you're supposed to enthuse about. I'm not saying I didn't like the first lady's speech; just that I am surprised the News is providing such service.
And I don't mean to suggest some kind of Democratic bias either. First of all that would be boring; second of all, as I've said over and over again, the tabloids don't have enough principle besides selling papers to even really have much of a consistent bias one way or another.
For an example look at today's Post. They are certainly not reverential about the convention. That wouldn't be Col Allan's style. But what's up with today's front page, "OWE-BAMA"? "$16 trillion kiss of debt for prez as Dems party."
There's a picture of that annoying National Debt clock, and a tiny one of Barack Obama at a podium. They're using the convention as a news peg rather than treating it as the news, which suits their anti-party-line sensibilities. And I think they're going for the reader who's disenchanted with everyone in this race. As has been much commented upon, that includes New York banks. It's a really superficial bit of rebelliousness, though, one that feels ripped from the R.N.C. platform.
See, if you're going way out of your way to stick it to one party, you're doing what the other party wants. You're just as much a political instrument as if you'd reverentially followed the officially presented agenda. You are simply a different kind of tool.
And the Post's isn't even a particularly strong set-up. The text treats the national debt hitting the $16 trillion mark as if it comes as a shock and threatens the effectiveness of the convention, when in fact it was precisely because we knew we'd hit this number that the Obama administration pushed so hard for an increase in the debt ceiling. Back then Republicans tried to make out as though they were the captains of austerity; the fight almost shut down the government and it lost the country its credit rating. I doubt very much whether the new high point in the national debt really is the cloud hanging over Charlotte right now, except in the minds of the Post's editorial page.
(For a more subtle and usefully anti-Democratic account of last night's events, which might at least have yielded a topical front page, see John Podhoretz's column.)
It's Day 2 of selling the new season of football to readers on the tab fronts. And for a second day, a straight-ahead sale by the News faces off against Post photo-composite weirdness. I'm getting bored just thinking of describing the News display, but you can picture it: guys throwing balls with expressions of exertion on their faces and lots of energetic all-caps lettering everywhere. The Post photo doctors, however, have decided again to deride the Giant's opponents (last time it was intramural rival the Jets, whom Giants were looking down on from a swank convertible as the Jets rode around in a clown car with clown-makeup on). The Dallas "COWGIRLS," the Post is calling them, because they're GIRLS, which means they SUCK. The head of Tony Romo is photoshopped onto the body of a midriff-baring woman in Daisy Dukes sitting on a barrel in the style of Marlene Dietrich doing her Lola-Lola routine in The Blue Angel. The reference pile-on is insane. Behind it all is an uncharacteristically angry-looking Eli Manning with ball in hand.
It's a weak day all around in my opinion. Lots of people will do the enthusiasm thing for Michelle Obama, but I think most have already basked it in and are ready to move on. Whereas those people who are always talking about the national debt will continue today to always talk about it. I think finally it's a gut reaction: Stand back and look at the pages, and as annoying as the Post story is, it's just graphically a more interesting cover, with less plain sales on it. It's trying to spin things, even if it's spinning out of control. But then, that's the Post.
Winner: New York Post.