12:37 pm Oct. 10, 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?
Everyone is being lame about Big Bird
The Big Bird joke was a bad one when Romney made it—first at Homer's Deli in Clinton, Iowa in a December 2011 primary campaign stop, and again at last week's presidential debate—but it was a throwaway, really. A bit of something to leaven his message of austerity, including cutting subsidies to public television and the National Endowment for the Arts. The message is, Of course I'm not so evil that I hate Big Bird! I just don't think the country can afford to keep bankrolling his show.
That's part of why yesterday's ad from the Obama campaign seemed so lame, and deliberately stupid. Taking their cues from social media, which blew up big during last week's debate with variations on the meme of Romney's heartless crusade against Big Bird, the ad shows up a week late and with a gag no funnier than any of the millions of little captioned pictures of Big Bird and Romney that were being tweeted and emailed and Facebooked but are now stale. We already knew humor is not something that the Obama campaign does well. (Very few campaigns do.)
But the ad is also cynical. Obama knows perfectly well that Big Bird isn't his campaign's property; he knew perfectly well that public broadcasting has no interest in being a bargaining chip in this campaign. He also knows that Sesame Workshop is public broadcasting that is almost uniquely independent of government subsidies, even if it is distributed across a public television network that is. Moreover, just because cutting funding for public broadcasting is part of Romney's arsenal doesn't mean defending it should be part of Obama's.
So I say they deserve what they get, except then I saw the cover of today's New York Post, which manages to deploy the Big Bird gag in a way that is far lamer even than the Obama campaign's.
Taking a silhouette of Big Bird from the Emmy Awards and Photoshopping it over the president's desk at the Oval Office for a composite image that takes the entire front page, the Post offers the following display copy: "Message from the White House," "CHEEP SHOT," and "Big Bird squawks for Bam in TV ad."
The cover doesn't express the paper's sneering anger at Obama, evident from the text of the article by S.A. Miller, which is positioned as a news article but really makes both the page 26 Editorial and the typically rote and inane Michael Goodwin column seem redundant.
It looks like "the White House" is saying "CHEEP SHOT." But that's the Post, right? "Message from the White House" is the problem. It ruins the page; the front isn't saying anything. It almost feels as if the opportunity to stick Big Bird up there was what got all the laughs in the newsroom, and the copy (aside from the rather nice cheap/cheep pun) was left to write itself.
Murder in Union Square
I'm somewhat mystified by the Post front page's apparent lack of interest in the rather gripping and heartbreaking story of the knifing murder of soccer coach Michael Jones over the weekend. It has all the elements you'd expect to grip the Page One editors. Jones was attractive and well-liked; so is his girlfriend. He's British, so his family is doing what British people do and talking openly to the press. What's more, late yesterday came the revelation that a real-life international manhunt is on for a suspect who has outrun the NYPD and is believed to be in Mexico.
The News certainly is running with it. Their front page Monday carried the story (and went big with it in early editions, shrinking it only to make room for report of the Yankees' Game 1 victory in the American League division series). Today, it's at the top of the page, taking up about a third of the space, with a large picture of the happy looking couple on a dark blue background with yellow text that reads "SLASHER ESCAPES: Flees to Mexico hours before cops put him on no-fly list." There's also another one of those grainy surveillance-camera stills of the suspect, Orlando Orea.
The apparent randomness of the crime is also something that normally would put the developing story front and center for the Post. Cops yesterday revealed that Jones may not even have been in a fight with his killer. Here's the Post's background-quotage from an obvious police source about the sequence of events at Bunga's Den, a West 14th Street bar where Orea had been drinking (but Michael Jones hadn't):
After [the killer's] arguing with the female, a guy and a couple other males come over, and they intervene ... They take the girl away, and they all leave.
[The perp] continues to drink beer for another half-hour. He then walks out with another woman. As they walk up the block, they pass the victim, who is making a phone call.
That's when the slashing began.
Now, one of the things that tended to differentiate the News' crime coverage from the Post's is that the News would often go big on murders that involved people in rough neighborhoods, or people involved in the drug business; and, especially, drive-by shootings and such that kill our wound innocent civilians; and, of course, organized crime. It gives the News an opportunity to paint a picture of the "danger in our streets" and the life of the mob. The Post is far less likely to give violence like that the cover. But if a young, pretty woman is killed in a seemingly random crime on a popular stretch of restaurants in the Lower East Side, it's big front-page news.
The News seems to be reversing this with its doggedness in keeping Jones on the cover.
But even more Post-y is the News' use of a "bombshell" lawsuit. That's what they're calling a random lawsuit against a dentist you never heard of by a young Russian immigrant student you have never heard of.
It is because she's pretty that she takes up so much of the front page, posing on a Lake George hotel-room bed in her underwear and striking a pin-up pose reminiscent of Betty Page.
"$16M tooth fairy," reads the giant, knockout-white text. Because, see, she's pictured in her bed, and the ex-boyfriend she is suing, for allegedly taking a personal snap of her taken on a vacation and posting it to an online whore directory out of spite then calling immigration and pointing the page out to them, is a dentist. Immigration officials appeared at her house and interrogated her about whether she was a prostitute.
Of course now he's just calling her a gold-digger, but there are a couple of reasons we think her lawsuit probably has some merit (aside from the astronomical damages).
First of all, it wouldn't be the first time the dentist tried to get his ex-girlfriend in trouble with immigration authorities. He was charged with grand larceny for allegedly taking her passport and refusing to give it to her unless she forked over $4,000. He pleaded guilty for the crime in February.
Second of all, it would be pretty easy for the defense to verify who set up this account on the escorts website. Would the woman's lawyer really take this to court, with such a big number, if it were easy to determine that her client set the web post up herself?
Anyway, none of that has much bearing on why we are looking at this young woman in her skivvies. The reason for that is simple: Sex sells.
We already observed that just because Romney wants to talk about arts funding doesn't mean Obama has to. But my other question is this: If the News front page just becomes the Post front page, what does the Post do? Walk away? Produce endless full-page national-politics screeds? Bone up on its punmanship? Sure, the News isn't where the Post is on its best days. But increasingly I find myself wondering what a Post cover is all about, now that the News is all about making Post covers.
Big Bird is old news; a campaign ad, however outrageous, is not a full front-page story, and that's that. I can appreciate "CHEEP" but all the rest of the text blurs the message and makes it incoherent. The Post needs to remember what it is to be the Post: tighten up, go for gut-laughs and get it done.
Winner: Daily News.