11:17 am Jan. 9, 2013
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?
THIS HAPPENED TWO NIGHTS AGO: Reporters looking for off-the-gridiron "color" to surround the story of Monday night's national college football championship have had lots to work with.
One theme that developed as soon as the University of Alabama* made it to the BCS championship at the end of the year concerned quarterback AJ McCarron, whose girlfriend Katherine Webb, 2012's reigning Miss Alabama, is a graduate of Auburn University.
Auburn and Alabama are storied intrastate rivals—real rivals, Hatfield-McCoy rivals, at least historically. When news of the relationship came to light, USA Today's Paul Myerberg wrote: "I promise you that a small portion of the Alabama fan base – I'd say about 4% – believes that Webb is a plant and that Auburn is attempting some sort of Manchurian Candidate maneuver with McCarron heading into the title game and the 2013 season."
So that's why, covering Monday night's game, ESPN's Brent Musburger was told to spend some time talking about Webb, who was seated with McCarron's family on a visit from Los Angeles, where she lives nowadays, to support the team.
Musburger's color commentary on Webb got personal, though. Bantering with former Ohio State quarterback and broadcast partner Kirk Herbstreit, Musburger followed the camera to Webb in the stands, declared her a "lovely lady," and quipped to Herbstreit, "You quarterbacks get all the good-looking women," and then told his viewers "If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with Pop."
The Times has a fairly anodyne story about it today, quoting women journalism professors objecting to Musburger's bit. ESPN has for its part apologized, and seems to have confirmed to the Times that producers gave a note to Musburger via his ear-piece to put a lid on it, which he did. But not before Webb's name began trending on Twitter (almost immediately), adding followers in the six digits to her Twitter account. She was the social media phenomenon of the game.
Webb was fine with it: "I didn’t look at it as creepy at all. For a woman to be called beautiful, I don’t see how that’s an issue," she told the Associated Press yesterday.
A very small A.P.-assisted article appears on page 7 of the New York Post today about it. Of course, the paper could have produced the same article on Tuesday morning, but let's give them time to digest fully everything that has already happened on the internet, turn it into an article, choose the right swimwear-competition photo of Webb from among the A.P.'s offerings, etc. etc. And of course there's a fun angle that wasn't true until later in the day yesterday: Webb now has about 40 percent more followers on Twitter than McCarron. (Not that it's any small thing for her to have been Miss Alabama for some 11 months before this football season in which McCarron's team qualified for the BCS and then beat Notre Dame.)
None of this matters. What matters is that it's cold outside and the Post has, lately, wanted very badly to put scantily clad, beautiful young women on the front page on any available pretext.
This is why, on the day of the funeral of one of the hero teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary, he pulled a story and photo shoot about the "Persian Barbie" out of the Pulse section and turned it into a news story after the lingerie model, Niki Ghazian, said she wanted to have one last night of hot sex before the Mayan apocalypse, dispatching reporters to find more people saying the same thing.
This is why the fiscal cliff deadline was illustrated with a bikini-clad woman leaping from a cliff into beautiful tropical waters.
This is why when a Northeaster threatened at the beginning of November in the wake of Sandy, he put a photo of a Victoria's Secret model who had appeared in the lingerie line's Angels show at the armory on the cover to warm us all up.
"She's the REAL winner of college football's title game," the text reads, next to a picture, provided by the Miss Universe Organization, of Webb in a bikini.
'SEX' SELLS, PART TWO: It is almost amazing that the story wraps around coverage of Brooklyn Net Andray Blatche's recent troubles. The basketball player, a reform project of his coaches who had some trouble with the law when he played for the Wizards but has kept his nose clean for the last few months and played well, was awarded with a contract and went out Monday night to celebrate. He and two other men, his connection with whom is not really known, took three women from a strip club to a hotel suite at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. The next thing we know is that at around 3:30 a.m. one of the women called police to the scene, saying she had been sexually assaulted.
From here things are increasingly grim, with police saying that she and the rest of the group were all heavily intoxicated, telling press that the woman said she had had sex with two men, one consensually and one not, and offering the information up very quickly that Blatche is not thought to have been involved in any wrongdoing. They even managed to tell The New York Times that the woman "is not going to be a very good witness." Ugh.
It's sold in a black box with knockout-white text reading "NETS' SEX SHOCK: Player quizzed in hotel assault." (I'll refrain from saying again what I've said before, that I don't think it's right to use the word "SEX" in this instance instead of "RAPE" or "ASSAULT.")
It first became clear to me when the Post started routinely switching between calling two New York City cops accused of sexually assaulting a drunken woman in her East Village apartment "SEX COPS" and "RAPE COPS." It has nothing to do with whether the charges have any merit; it's purely a matter of what the charges are. The cop, for instance, was not charged with sex; he was charged with sexual assault. They aren't the same thing.
Anyway, the intersection of sports and sex sitting side by side on the front page today is, to me, a bit disturbing.
SEX SELLS, PART THREE: So "sex" story one is a bikini-clad girl who got a lot of Twitter followers after Brent Musburger trolled her on air. "Sex" story two is a sexual assault involving a cadre of a pro-basketball player's friends. "Sex" story three also involves sports and sex, and also comes from Monday night.
Carmelo Anthony's reason for losing his mind while playing against Boston's Kevin Garnett, and quite possibly costing the Knicks the game by doing so, is now revealed! Garnett told Anthony that Anthony's wife, LaLa, a reality-television star, "tastes like Honey-Nut Cheerios." Garnett is famous for trolling opposing players on court; Anthony fell for it. He's since apologized. But the revelation of the taunt led reporters to the news that the Anthonys are presently having some problems: They're living apart.
"CHEERIO" reads the headline, the "O" replaced by a single Cheerio. This story is apparently complex enough to require bullet points on the cover:
— Melo & wife living apart
— Revealed: 'Cereal' insult that sparked spat with Celtic
There's a photo of the Anthonys in civilian black-tie gear, and another silhouette of Anthony and Garnett sparring on the court.
SEX SELLS, PART FOUR: Our fourth and final "sex" story actually does not concern sports, which makes for a nice break. Instead, the fitness model and 9/11 widow Wanda Arena has sued a doctor who texted her a picture of his penis. This story allows for a large silhouette of a scantily clad woman, too, though I suspect it would not warm the cockles of Col Allan's heart since she's tanned and oiled and quite muscular in the way women fitness models are.
Sherman, we are told, is a well-known civic leader in Staten Island, though that's now over for him; he's a different kind of community pillar. "What the perv doc sent the 9/11 widow" reads the text. It's an "EXCLUSIVE," in the sense that only the News managed to dig this thing up out of the courthouse today.
OBSERVATIONS: It's almost impossible to judge today without descending into the question of when sex sells and when it doesn't. On the substance: I think we care more about Carmelo Anthony, a local sports star whose marriage is in trouble and whose meltdown on the court we now can blame Boston for. But this big "CHEERIO" with lots of pictures of people in it is certainly not highly focused. I dither on the question whether it matters what on earth you're going to get inside when you pick up a copy of the Post because a pretty girl is on it. The Nets are sort of the trending-topic team of the moment, with a new coach and sort-of winning streak, but the Knicks are far more star-powerful. And this perv doc ... I just don't know. It's one of those days where, for all of our thought, the only thing to do is toss a coin and see which paper it lands on.
WINNER: Daily News.
*CORRECTION: It was of course the University of Alabama that won, not Alabama State. Thanks, @michaelValkys.