10:27 am Oct. 25, 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?
UNLUCKY PUNK: Today the Post endorses Romney. But they were against him before they were for him.
The paper's early feelings about Romney, like the feelings of most Republican primary voters at the time, were manifested in a restlessness for someone better. It was less that he was insufficiently rock-ribbed than that he seemed like a loser.
(Remember John Podhoretz's column declaring after Rick Perry's first debate that America had just witnessed a star being born? Podhoretz wasn't being dumb. He was just being relative.)
As late as Aug. 27, the Post fronted a story about New Jersey governor Chris Christie that had sources telling the paper Christie had rejected an offer to be Romney's running mate because he "doubted they'd win."
Yes, that was a background-sourced news report, not a column, and it was vigorously denied by the subject after it came out.
But it comported with the Post's prevailing Romney-ethos at the time. (At least one person with not insignificant influence over the Post had already said as much, very publicly: Rupert Murdoch.)
Four days later, Clint Eastwood made his famous impromptu performance at the Republican National Convention, and that's when I think the Post's vote was cast. Here's what I said about the Post front for Aug. 31:
The story inside does the typical thing—reeling out references to famous Eastwood movie lines as it tumbles along—and ends with the requisite spin-room reaction from both the Romney and Obama sides. But along the way we're treated to a rhetorical slant that is less than reverent toward Dirty Harry.
His "meandering monologue," the paper points out, kept going like a "vaudeville act" after the red light started blinking and the TelePrompTer went blank; the reporters have reference to "his gray hair tussled."
Since then, the drumbeat of big campaign moments have largely been provided by the debates, and Romney winning the first one, as the conventional wisdom has it, was enough to send the Post off to the races. Little could get in the way of the momentum Romney built in that first debate, the rhetoric of the Post's election coverage has suggested (including losing both subsequent debates and apparently writing off 47 percent of the electorate); his momentum was now assured.
This, too, we've discussed at length in this column: Look at the Post fronts of Sept. 5 (offering the paper's take on the Democratic National Convention); Sept. 19 (the 47-percent day); Oct. 10 (Big Bird Day); Oct. 12 (the vice-presidential debate); and Oct. 23 (in which Obama scores his final, "hollow" debate victory).
Still, I'm left confused about what exactly the joke is in the empty chair on the front of today's Post. It's on the left, flanking text that reads "THE ONLY CHOICE," with a photo of Romney in the right "column." OK, so I get that: There is no "choice" in the left column (though the photo they chose of Romney, in which he looks like he's watching a pile of puppies gamboling in a wicker basket in front of a warm fireplace is a little less statesmanlike than might have been ideal).
But repurposing the Eastwood moment doesn't signal that the editorial endorsing Romney inside had a bit of self-deprecating humor about the difficulties Romney faced early on. It is in fact utterly devoid of humor or self-knowledge, unless they're doing the Letterman trick of repeating an unfunny joke over and over until it becomes awkward enough to be funny in a different way.
The Post has always been an opportunist paper in its treatment of campaigns, but the thing goes a little deeper than that. Today's endorsement is a doubling-down on a style of Republican the Post generally doesn't care for much. Romney, as he has styled himself in this campaign, is a long way from more typical Post G.O.P. idols like Christie or Giuliani. Holding their nose and hoping for the best, I suspect, is what we are seeing here.
And in that, I think, they are—to use an overused term from this election—dog-whistling to a certain New York power elite that believes that Romney will be the country's chief executive officer when he takes the Oval Office; that all this social-policy and foreign-policy stuff is campaign claptrap, easily discarded as Romney focuses on making the national economy safe for capitalists again. The text of the editorial is "jobs, jobs, jobs," but as always, the Manhattan mandarins the Post hopes to speak to are reading the subtext instead.
HERO-COP SWAP: The edition of the Daily News I got on my way into the office this morning was an homage to Arthur Lopez, the Nassau County police officer who was shot dead Tuesday by a rampaging gunman fleeing the scene of an accident with Lopez and his partner on his trail. "Fit for a hero" reads the text, as enormous as I've ever seen front-page text on the News before. There's that oval-shaped portrait of the late officer, and a photo of someone carrying Lopez's dress uniform on a hanger out of his home; "Shot cop to wear uniform for eternity" reads a small line of text along the top of the page.
Here's the thing: Violence broke out last night in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx around 6:30 p.m. when off-duty police officer Ivan Marcano and his girlfriend saw a mugging taking place as they drove up Harrison Avenue. Marcano wasn't wearing a bullet-proof vest but was armed, and jumped out of the car brandishing his badge and gun and approached the attackers.
According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, one of the suspects immediately opened fire on Marcano, the bullet grazing his arm and entering his chest, narrowly missing the heart; Marcano retreated back to his car and followed the suspects, who had leapt into a white Ford Mustang, attempting to beat a retreat before crashing into a cab, then a light pole at the intersection of Burnside Ave. Pulling up behind the wreck as the two men and their driver attempted to flee on foot, Marcano chased them, firing with one arm while keeping pressure on his wound with the other hand, and hitting one in the head, killing him, as the other two fled.
The News reporting team (including crime-scene veteran Kerry Burke) were on the case quick, filing their first report at 8:08 p.m.; and the story made page 17 of the earlier editions of the paper, along with original photography from Andrew Savulich.
Why bring this up? Because the last edition of the paper has swapped out the Lopez uniform story for the Bronx shootout.
I can understand this happening if the story broke while the paper was on the printing press, but it didn't. This morning, the online edition, updated a little after 2 a.m. (which, I suspect, means print editions will roughly mirror this version of the article) does little to change the original. It moves some Kelly quotes up, some Bloomberg quotes about Marcano's condition down, adds a quote from Marcano's brother, and that's all I can really find. And the photography was already in place: A picture of the gun police suspect was fired on Marcano at the beginning of the struggle and a night-time picture of police investigating the scene of the crash and the shooting.
So what is the new front page? "SUPER COP," with, yes, an oval-shapede portrait of Marcano floating above the two pictures from Savulich. "Shot in the chest, hero kills robber" reads the dek.
So what to do about that three-page spread about Lopez they had reserved for plum positions on pages 4, 5 and 6? Simple! Move the Marcano story up to Page 7 and make the whole thing into a four-page hero-cop package. "POLICE UNDER SIEGE" reads some small text on the front.
ASS-FACE: I'm taking a rare sojourn inside today's paper to make a quick observation: To me, there is little doubt that the Daily News photo illustration, accompanying its Page 11 article on Donald Trump's stunt yesterday (he's offered $5 million to a charity of Obama's choice if the president will release a bizarre quantity of personal documents including college applications and school transcripts), was a contender for Page 1. It's a grotesque piece of work, with Trump's maw photoshopped to look like the toothy snout of a donkey. Reminding us they've done it before ("SIDESHOW DON," April 11, 2011) with an image of a previous Trump photo-bashing, the illustration by Isaac Lopez is emblazoned with the words "WHAT AN ASS!"
Of course, the problem is that Trump is an enormous ass, and his announcement was like a piece of questionable street theater. Even its ridiculousness doesn't get it on the front page. But if I'm right they were considering it, then at least we know the News is willing to up its game against the Post on another bit of Post-y turf: Photomontage meanness.
OBSERVATIONS: Well, I don't think the Post Romney endorsement is actually meant to move papers so much as create a moment in the political cycle. (Being unpredictable so that you can wield influence behind the scenes usually doesn't coincide well with big, brash, needle-moving announcements, and I doubt that the paper or its proprietors will ever give up on the possibility of gaining ground with the former strategy.) But, with apologies to the sensitive (there is little sensitivity involved in determining the winner of a tabloid front-page battle), I don't think there's much novelty in either of the hero cop stories fronted on the News.
And the empty chair is likely to get as many sympathetic laughs as groans; though I put myself firmly in the latter group, I'm just one guy.
WINNER: New York Post.