10:39 am Sep. 19, 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?
The "people's papers"?
People who have been reading this column for a long time know that I'm loath to paint the Post an apologist for Republicans; we've seen the paper buck that trend over and over again. But that the paper has a certain conservative bent, activated especially when moments of crisis or embarrassment arrive in foreign policy or what are called the culture wars, was seldom so apparent as it was this morning.
First of all, it's almost impossible to read the text above the photo on today's front page—"Romney exposed"—as facetious, coming from the Post. A day late, the photo is a still from the video taken clandestinely at a fund-raiser in Boca Raton during which Mitt Romney delivered his "47 percent" remarks, complete with the subtitle provided by Mother Jones, the liberal magazine that published the video on its website: "... who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what."
Far from being damning, this quote is the best possible articulation of the Post point of view on entitlements. It's there as an incitement to rally around Romney, not to pick up pitchforks. Technically, the big text—"THE TRUTH HURTS"—looks meant to refer just to Michael Goodwin's opinion column on the matter, but the whole thing in aggregate is the Post following Rush Limbaugh's lead, and egging Romney to give us more of the 47 percent talk.
Let's go inside. The lead article by Washington bureau chief Geoff Earle begins "Mitt Romney moved quickly to steady his campaign ..." after the leaked-video kerfuffle, it begins. Well, I suppose if appearing on Fox more than 24 hours after the video was made public is a quick move, then sure. But of course, yesterday afternoon wasn't the first time Romney tried to get over the response to the video; further down the piece you'll find this:
Romney's TV appearance had a more focused pushback at President Obama than did his hastily called news conference Monday night, where he granted that his own comments in the video from a May fund-raiser were "not elegantly stated," but also didn't back down.
So now that Romney, and the Post, have found their position on the video, it gets the whole front page? Yesterday the story didn't crack the cover, and I suspected it was because the Post didn't yet know how to absorb the event into a Post-y narrative. Today, they're coming out with guns blazing. There's an S.A. Miller piece providing some useful statistics to Romney if he wants to evolve his 47 percent presentation into his new stump speech, something the Post, and the Obama campaign, would love. "America becoming land of the freeloader" reads the hed. (Nevermind that many, including National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru, writing today in the Post, have pointed out that the rise in entitlements is largely due to an increase in the number of elderly Americans receiving Social Security benefits, a group that has trended Republican in recent Presidential elections. And John Podhoretz repeats the idea.)
"MITT: THIS IS WHAT I MEANT" reads the big type at the top of the news spread covering the whole 47 affair.
And so it was with that particular pleasure you get when someone acts exactly the way you predict them to that I turned to the Daily News this morning. There is actually a picture (small) of Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and a great candidate to be a panelist on "Saturday Night Live" panel show "Bill Swerski's Superfans" if they ever revive it, on the front page! He's angry, and pointing, and his mustache looks like its ready to attack. "A SPIT IN THE FACE" reads the knockout-white text on a black field; Romney, looking dignified in an imperial sort of way, is profiled along the right edge of the page. "FURY OVER MITT'S 47% INSULT" reads some white text in a red stripe across the top. Who's getting spat at in the face, besides likely anyone within three feet of Richard Trumka?
"... everyday people who know what it means to work incredibly hard and still sometimes fail to get by," explains a dek.
Inside, the tone is brazen, calculated for effect at the dingy work-kitchen tables of union shops all over town. "NO APOLOGY" reads text across the top. More "A SPIT IN THE FACE" and "HE'S IN DEEP MITT" for good measure. Mike Lupica produces a swinging bunt with a piece about how Mitt Romney is like Sarah Palin. (Of course he isn't.)
Randomly chosen Vietnam veterans, hardworking old people and the like are interviewed for their reactions to establish what the News called a "swift rejection" of Romney by "New Yorkers who fit into the Republican's 47% category, including fixed-income retirees, college students, veterans and struggling parents who don't earn enough to pay federal income tax." There's a little bug advertising the editorial, which reads: "As a trust-building exercise, saying that 47% of his fellow citizens are cozily 'dependent on government' and 'believe that they are victims' is a feat so far beyond a flop there's no name for it."
So as the elections near, the tabloids are taking double doses of their drugs of choice: the Post wants to make the remainder of the campaign a showcase for its brand of metropolitan neocoservativism which is neither quite the Tea Party nor the Yale Club. And the News wants to use the election to make itself the house organ of unionized New York. This could get to be a lot of fun, even if it has nothing to do with 2012. But my struggle is choosing between "A SPIT IN THE FACE" and "THE TRUTH HURTS," both of which are powerful. In a classical tabloid sense, the News has the better cover. There are people yelling in different directions like they are actors in a Beckett play in a black-box theater; this is good art direction. The Post has a grainy video capture with lots of text.
But more importantly, I think the Post is looking both slow and a little marginal, and not in a way that's graphically interesting. You know, there's a reason the News is going after the 47-percenters as readers, and it's the same reason there is, as usual, a strip ad for the New York Lottery at the bottom of the page: They buy tabloids.
Winner: Daily News.