10:18 am Jan. 11, 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?
New York Post: On what is a big national news day, with Romney 2-0 in the Republican primaries and the action starting again in South Carolina today, the Post gives over its entire front to an exclusive document-driven item about a request for proposals from the city health department's Partnership for a Healthier New York initiative—which happens to be ripe for blowing up into a fun piece of the narrative of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "nanny state."
Bloomberg's head is grafted onto that of Prohibition-era police commissioner John A. Leach, watching as agents pour liquor (it looks like beer to me?) into a sewer (the Library of Congress itself isn't sure how to date the photo, but offers "1921?" and the information that the picture comes from the combined collections of the New York World-Telegram and the New York Sun, acquired by the library presumably since those newspapers died out). "DRY UP!" reads the knockout-white hed across Leach's stout belly. Up top, also in knockout white with an underline: "Now nanny Mike out to slash booze." A red "EXCLUSIVE" bar tops a box of lede text beginning in the lower right-hand corner.
(I couldn't resist mocking up another possibility for the cover, involving an old photo of the famous axe-wielding Prohibition bar-smasher Carry Nation. I like it more, but I think it would've been too specific a historical reference for a wide audience.)
What's really going on here? Well, the request for proposals, issued by the health department for the deployment of federal community transformation grants available under Obama's new health-care plan, calls for "community groups" to respond. Very little of the text from the R.F.P. is quoted in the article, though it makes reference to “reducing alcohol retail outlet (e.g. bar, corner store) density and illegal alcohol” and "the exposure to alcohol products and bar advertising and promotion in retail and general (trains, buses, etc.) settings (stores, restaurants, etc.).”
You've already probably seen how the health department is fighting subway ads touting liquor brands (one of the most prevalent sorts of ads on the subway, up there with vocational schools, local arts organizations, pawnbrokers, and Dr. Zizmor) with a campaign showing sad drunks with black eyes or in fishnets sitting on their stoops with their heads in their hands regretting things they'd done because they hadn't left the bar "two drinks earlier."
But that costs money: The department has also discussed banning the liquor ads from city transit ad spaces. (Probably not exactly the best way to deal with the system's incessant financial free-falling?)
Of course the city knows perfectly well that restricting alcohol consumption on the supply side is futile, since most aspects of the sale and distribution of liquor that are subject to government restriction at all are handled at the state level, through the State Liquor Authority or other state agencies. So when the Post gets a quote from canny political operator and Conservative Party chief Mike Long, who also happens to have run a family liquor store for many years, they are all in on the joke. Long played along: "Talk about a nanny state. Why don’t they just close all the liquor establishments?" Long followed his quote with an analogy to the Volstead Act, the federal law passed in a moment of reactionary insanity that instituted the Prohibition Era.
The Health Department's on-the-record response to the Post strikes me as almost deliberately theatrical in that it appears to be obliging the newspaper by going along with the seriousness of its anti-booze project: "The city’s goals for the Partnership for a Healthier New York are in line with our ongoing strategies of promoting healthy eating and physical activity and discouraging tobacco, excessive alcohol use and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages," a spokeswoman told the paper. But tobacco has been discouraged with hefty city taxes; sugar-sweetened beverages with banning from city agencies and schools. It's not clear what if any power the city has to reduce the number of liquor establishments or eliminate advertising from state-controlled public places without tangling pretty heavily with Albany, so instead they're funneling money into community groups, I imagine to shout at community board meetings where votes are taken on liquor licenses that influence the State Liquor Authority's decisions to a greater or lesser degree but are nonbinding. In other words, this is not exactly stiff stuff.
Still, the opportunity for a big, colorful send-up of nanny-mayoring is there, and the paper, the liquor lobby and the city all go along with it in their assigned roles.
Daily News: There are two ways to play it when you want to expose your audience to the luxurious lives of the rich and famous. You can play on jealousy and outrage (ex-Tyco C.E.O. Dennis Kozlowski's $6,000 shower curtain) or their fascination and admiration (the recent spate of "Celebrity Holiday Homes" shows on HGTV or Jacqueline Kennedy's televised tour of the White House come to mind). Today's News doesn't seem to know which to reach for, having found out the make and model of the limousine that transported new parents Jay-Z and Beyoncé Knowles home from the hospital. It's the $140,000 Mercedes Sprinter Van Grand Edition.
Inside, it turns out the story is really more about all the things the couple bought or received as gifts for the child, including a $20,000 crib tricked out to look like a wooden white coach, cashmere baby blankets and a silk gown. None of which will obviate the need for lots of washable cotton, even if the brands are Petit Bateau and Absorba instead of Carter's.
"PRINCESS RIDE" reads the main hed, in a space crowded up with a small interior picture of the empty S.U.V. and two tiny silhouetted head shots of the celebrity couple. "Beyoncé baby's plush bling-mobile" reads a dek, and an extended caption reads "Proud parents took baby Blue Ivy home from the hospital in a $140G Mercedes van." Another red box advertises the spread ("SEE PAGES 4-5.") And all of this in a box that is half the page. There's still the flag, the skybox above the flag (a red bar with a silhouette of Romney's head and the text "ROMNEY ROMPS IN N.H.: NOW ON TO THE SOUTH CAROLINA BATTLE ZONE").
There's also a close-up picture of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, whose disappointing performance in the Jets' disappointing season has caused the fans to turn on him and, now, according to the News, the team. "SANCHEZ MUTINY" reads the pale-yellow text; "Teammates call for Peyton." This is billed as an exclusive, too, but in tiny letters. They could have made a bigger deal of it, even: Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been booted and Rex Ryan's whole project is just looking like a mess right now. But probably this just isn't the day for it—we'll have the whole off-season to talk about the steps the Jets will be taking to get past that incredibly embarrassing spectacle of offensive captain Santonio Holmes sulking on the bench at the end of their pitiful, season-ending loss to the Miami Dolphins. Plus, the Jets are after all the losers, and they get the whole back page.
And that's not all, football-wise: A blue snipe across the bottom-right corner of the Sanchez box advertises a "GIANTS POSTER INSIDE." (The double-truck poster says "GO GIANTS" on one side, with the Daily News logo underneath, perfect, they hope, for hanging in deli windows. The other features quarterback Eli Manning and new fan favorite Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants' offense-destroying defensive end.)
Observations: Yesterday was the News' new editor Colin Myler's first day on the job; today he got a taste of what the Post has been up to since he left it a few years back. (For more on all of this, look here.)
Myler's paper is pretty much sticking to form: Lots and lots of things, not very many of them local, splattered across the page. Recognizable faces are a refuge for his newspaper when they can't find a local story that makes an emotional connection with the reader, something the News is stronger with, especially when those readers are from the outer boroughs and work day-jobs.
His competition is blowing up a non-story into an opportunity to give readers a laugh, tell them something they already know about their mayor, and generally get het up about not much. And committing to the bit completely: No New Hampshire, no Beyonce, no Super Bowl; the only news today, declares the Post, is the news they're making.
Is it fair? Everything is, in a war, and Myler, who found himself playing against his former boss, Rupert Murdoch, during hearings in London relating to the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, has declared war in interviews, essentially.
The Post fired the first shot.
Winner: New York Post.