12:19 pm Nov. 7, 20121
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?
IT'S ALL OVER: Both New York city tabloids endorsed Mitt Romney for president, and indeed much of the recent published material in the Post seemed infused with optimism for Romney even as polling in the final days of the election cycle seemed increasingly to favor Barack Obama's reelection bid.
There's a fun graphic on Slate today with some of the pundits' predictions for the campaign mapped out on a dartboard. What it demonstrates, mostly, is that liberal-identified poll-watchers tended to believe Obama would win, and conservaive-identified poll-watchers, many of whom spent time debunking liberal pollsters' methodology, favored Romney. Needless to say it was a rout.
In these circumstances, you might expect the papers to adopt a tone of surprise: A "shocker," even if it only arises from your paper's own approach leading up to Election Day, is a nicer thing to sell than a foregone conclusion. But in fact, both papers restrain their indignation—on the front page, anyway.
The News' early editions come out with a full front page devoted to the story of the St. John's University dean who had been accused of stealing money from the school and implicated in a murder investigation, and who was found yesterday having hanged herself.
But most visitors to newsstands won't see it unless they buy the paper: later editions were wrapped with a 20-page "special section" covering the elections, and the cover is a double truck. Meaning: To see the whole thing you have to open up the paper and lay it with its spine facing up. Then you get "DOUBLE BAMMY!" (Second term; pun on "double whammy." An incumbent's reelection has never been called a "double whammy," but then I don't think anyone's fusty enough to do the gatekeeping on the useful deployments of the term.)
Of course the problem with double trucks is that you don't see the whole thing on the stand. Last week, the News gave a double truck to its first issue after Hurricane Sandy, and in that case, the clumsiness of the headline was its virtue.
"APOCALYPSE N.Y." read the text across the bottom, meaning the front looked incomplete—the front seemed to say "LYPSE N.Y." In other words, you knew it was a double truck. Today's "DOUBLE BAMMY" leaves us with just a picture of Obama on the front and the word "BAMMY!" Which is not a good headline, and offers little indication that opening the paper up in this obscure way after you've bought it will give you an Obama poster you can tack up to the upholstery of your cube wall. (The small text at the bottom that reads "20-PAGE SOUVENIR WRAP" was probably intended to fill this function, but it should have been bigger or else what's the point?)
Let's say this for the News though: They got the photo right. Obama looks genuinely, deeply thrilled as he waves to a crowd, his blue tie bright in the spotlights and the color of bunting visible behind him, and holding the hand of his daughter Malia who looks a) beautiful and b) overjoyed. This photo is a tough composition for anything but a double truck with Michelle and Sasha off to the left, walking toward the president. But it splits up the two pages nicely: We've got a nice image on the front, and a nice image to open up if we know enough to buy the News and look at the double truck. And Michelle, and now increasingly Sasha, are very cover-friendly women.
The New York Post, any Romney slant I accuse them of notwithstanding, is as we have observed before a lover of winners, and Obama won, decisively. I can imagine a little after the 11 p.m. hour, the editors of the paper freaking out as they watched Karl Rove lacerate Fox News for calling Ohio, and the election, for Obama. Would they maybe have to do a big Ohio cover? "NOT SO FAST!" and a picture of Obama and a little portrait of angry Rove?
But that little sidestep only lasted for a little over an hour and the presses were back to just giving Obama his kudos. The presidential seal is emblazoned on the front page, looking very regal, and red, white and blue bunting is draped over a medium-sized red box that touts "OBAMA'S HISTORIC VICTORY."
What's historic about it exactly? Well, every presidential election is historic, of course, but that can't be what they are after. It feels like a bit of a come-down from 2008 to point out that Obama is the first black president to win a second term, since he was already the first black candidate to win a first. It was fun, wasn't it, last night, to watch as the pundits who consider themselves sages and political lorekeepers struggled to find a framework for declaring the epochal moment of last night's incumbent victory.
Chris Matthews was my favorite: He pointed out that Obama was the second Democratic president since the Civil War to win consecutive elections with more than 50 percent of the vote, which was essentially a way of saying that he was the first Democratic president since FDR to win reelection, if you don't count Bill Clinton. (Obama was also, I think, the first Democrat since FDR to win reelection while being opposed by Gigi Georges, and the first Hawaiian-born president ever to win more than two thirds of the Jewish vote twice in a row.)
Ironically right-leaning commentators were better and more decisive, talking about a president winning reelection with this unemployment rate. Again they seem to forget that the run-of-the-mill voter blames bosses who downsize for job losses (people like the ones regularly advised by Mitt Romney at Bain) more than the overall state of the economy. They also forget that lack of faith in the economy does not always point very clearly to one candidate or the other.
For Obama, we're really talking here about the auto-industry bailout, which turned out to be important, I think, for his win in Ohio. And while a gender gap and shifting demographics delivered votes to Obama in Virginia, I think the relative success this president has had with funding the military, reintegrating veterans, and defeating Osama bin Laden scored him points with the northern Virginia military campus-dwellers. Again, a "good boss" scene.
I'd like to point out how distinctly unimpressive the Post managed to be in presenting this scene. Here, and not in any slant, is where I find the paper's evident lack of enthusiasm for last night's results. It's a mediocre picture of Obama wearing a noncommittal smile, almost as though he's watching a terrible school play and needs to force himself to look interested and entertained. It's got almost no color in it. The headline "BARACK 4 MORE" is a not-great pun in the first place, and the letters are dumped on the page with near-contempt for the rules of composition. "Prez takes key states to win second term" reads the anodyne dek. And isn't this what we do not expect from the Post—to be bored?
OBSERVATIONS: So I've tipped my hand pretty heavily. The News' front is better than the Post's even if you cut off the double truck entirely. The Post looks like it was put together between the first round of beer and the arrival of the wings with minimal effort. It's bland, sullen and distinctly unhistoric.
WINNER: Daily News.