A Knicks-Nets event that lives up to the hype, and a Katrina comparison that mostly doesn’t

Today's tabloids, Nov. 27, 2012. ((Click here to enlarge.))
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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?

HOOP-LA: With the Jets in the can and the Giants doing steady-not-spectacular work and hockey on strike and baseball over, we were primed to get excited for something sportsy.

Bruce Ratner and his Brooklyn Nets have been telling us it should be them for some time now, and there was a fair amount of hype over the opening of his Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But only last night did it really become clear what Barclays has done for the city's sports ecosystem, when his Nets soundly beat New York's cynically managed legacy team, the New York Knicks, in what was effectively a home game for both teams. It's a great narrative wherever the season leads the two franchises, who were both still at the top of their conference standings after last night's game.

What makes it a front-page story is the chants of "BROOOOKLYN" booming from the stands, a feeling of intramural rivalry where we hadn't had it before. It's a kind of overabundance that comes across on the front pages of today's tabloids.

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The News doesn't go very big, but with the headline "Lords of Flatbush" over a picture of Deron Williams racing toward the net, the word "BROOKLYN" etched across the chest of his jersey, it's a palpable moment for the borough and the city.

Over at the Post, a full half page goes to Carmelo Anthony on one side and Williams on the other, with the headline "Battle of Hooplyn," a little bit recessive maybe but emblazoned in yellow it's meant as a sort of tabloid cheer. "Nets draw first blood in Barclays OT thriller."

Also: This column is about the front of the paper, but the Post's back-page hed today merits an honorable mention: ''LYN-SANITY!'

$ANDY: At an estimated $42 billion in "economic damage" to the state, superstorm Sandy was indeed, as Andrew Cuomo claimed, huge. But the difficulties of comparing it to Katrina only became more obvious when Cuomo attempted to do it.

His rationale for the comparison: "Because of the density of New York, the number of people affected, the number of properties affected was much larger in Hurricane Sandy than Hurricane Katrina. This puts the entire conversation, I believe, into focus ..."

And he's right by some measures. 305,000 homes were lost or destroyed in Sandy, compared to 214,700 in Katrina. 265,300 businesses were debilitated in whole or in part due to the storm compared to 18,700 in Katrina. 2.19 million power outages for Sandy; 800,000 for Katrina.

Cuomo did make one (very necessary) concession: "Now Katrina had a human toll that thankfully we have not paid in this region," he said.

Deaths attributed to Sandy are just over 100, while the figure for Katrina was 1,866.

There's other stuff he's not counting, too. Like the evacuations that followed Katrina vacating half the population from the city, which is struggling to return to its former density still. According to data from the U.S. Census bureau, the population of New Orleans before Katrina, reported in July of 2005, was 455,188. By the following year it had dropped to 208,548; as of July 2011 it had only risen to 360,740—a net loss, attributable to Katrina, of 20 percent of its population.

So let's say that that happened in New York: that the population of the city dropped to 3.89 million over the course of the next year as a result of Sandy, and that by 2018 it had only inched back up to about 6.8 million?

Of course it's a simplistic reckoning. But it does, I think, start to put the "entire conversation into focus." After talking about this with a relative of mine in New Orleans, she said to me: "So it sounds like your Sandy was more like our BP spill than our Katrina."

Cuomo is battling the perception that New York is a super-rich state whose primary losses are in sectors that should be well able to take care of themselves. And of course $42 billion is indeed, as he says, far more burden than the state can shoulder itself. And I don't mean to lecture the Post either; it's the nature of the tabloid news business that the suggestion Sandy was "worse" than Katrina helps keep the story more firmly up on its legs. Sandy fatigue hasn't set in yet (and it will be too bad when it does, because there is plenty to do and little guarantee of the financial or strategic resources to do it), but the Post, and Cuomo are shoring up against just this other, coming disaster.

So, what do we get? "SANDY'S $42B BLOW ... Gov calls it NY's Katrina." And, scene.

HALFLING CONDEMNS AWFUL SHOW: So in the entire time that we have been talking about the television sitcom "Two and a Half Men," through the Charlie Sheen scandals, through the Ashton Kutcher ascendancy, and into today's news that the show is being condemned by one of its own actors who receives about $8 million a year, I have never seen even a snippet of an episode, nor, I think, has anyone I know. Never mind that. The soundstage drama is the thing, here, more than anything else, but this time it's a different brand of wacky. The question isn't whether an actor has violated a morality clause in his contract with the network, but whether the network has violated a morality clause with God.

The once-much-larger-and-cuter kid actor Angus T. Jones gave an interview on a Christian website in which he said he had to serve out another year playing the "sarcastic teen" (borrowing from the News there) on the show, which is "filth" and which you should not watch, because it must be part of God's plan to make him suffer the moral indignity. For me, and I suspect for many, that's not much of a loss. The News gives us a picture of Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen with the boy at an awards ceremony of some kind with the effortful "TWO & A HALF AMEN" printed in giant knockout-white text on the left. It's something that everyone had yesterday.

777, NUMBER OF THE BEAST: Whereas the paper's gossip page, the untypeable CONFîDENTI@L, is claiming an exclusive with its no-name reports of people on Rihanna's staff getting annoyed at her. "The Ri-volt against Ri-hanna" is all we see on the front, though, so little sense of what's inside. Tepid reviews of her new album could be enough to set that headline up. Still, she is beautiful, and popular, and capable of moving papers. (An old editor of mine would have complained that "Ri-volt" doesn't "read," meaning that nobody will read the headline the right way in their mind's ear. I think he'd be right.)

OBSERVATIONS: It's a rainy, cold day, and nobody wants to be out in it. I think the paper that works has some kind of energy jolt to it. Celebrity and sports can do that, but when you've got three and the weight is distributed among them around the page it creates a diffuse effect, more like the cover of a glossy celebrity weekly like Us than an urgent, direct daily tabloid newspaper. The News should have decided to own the Rihanna thing, played it bigger, and given a slim skybox to the kid-actor's Saul of Tarsus moment. As it stands, the Post, with its big Katrina price tag and its nice big Nets story, has more energy. The Katrina story isn't any newer than the "Two and a Half Men" one, but fewer people read it yesterday so it feels less musty in print.

Winner: New York Post.