WOOD WAR: 05.20.2009

The New York Post: The thing about writing a column like this every day is that you realize, sometimes, the news does not move very fast. We’ve already talked quite a bit about the Astor trial, which takes up pretty much the entire front page of the Post today. Yesterday’s testimony was the stuff we’ve been waiting for: Anthony Marshall’s two sons, whose original complaints arguably spearheaded this whole prosecution, told some pretty compelling stories of their father’s efforts to separate them from their grandmother as, they claim, her mental faculties were waning. We’ve already got the gist of their feelings about Mr. Marshall. What we didn’t have until today was the testimony. But for some reason, the Post chooses a rather generic characterization: “DADDY DEAREST.” Nevermind that the analogy to Joan Crawford isn’t really there, except in a “meta” sort of way: the movie Mommie Dearest was based on a treasonous narrative about life as the daughter of the Hollywood star, and the Marshall sons are committing a sort of treason by turning against their father in the courtroom. But where the analogy falls apart is exactly in the area the Post should have been mining for headline material: Anthony Marshall did not beat them with wire hangers. He was, at most, stand-offish; he seems to have snubbed one of them at a New York Public Library benefit. Rather, the specifics of their father’s efforts to keep the sons from knowing too much about their grandmother’s situation are specifically and anecdotally enumerated. None of this happened with Crawford and her kids. A screaming quote from the testimony, with a subhead that explained the context, would have served better. Instead what we’ve got is a sort of insipid play on a movie title.

There’s a strip at the bottom advertising the sports section’s coverage: “YANKEES ROMP IN 7th STRAIGHT WIN.” More on these little red strips below.

New York Daily News: It’s as hard to judge how to sell stories about swine flu as it is for the Centers for Disease Control to manage its message, which needs to be something along the lines of “This is how much you should panic about swine flu.” So it perhaps makes sense that the News steps back a bit today and simply reports that the panic is growing. Will a story about growing panic also grow the panic? Hard to say! “SWINE FLU FEARS GROW” is the direct, if uninspired headline. Subhead: “ERs swamped as classrooms empty and panic builds in city.” A six-year-old is shown wearing a mask, like all those people in Mexico City a little while ago. Haven’t we been told we’re not trying to manage the spread anymore, just treat the ill? Swine flu has a pretty low morbidity rate. The mask picture doesn’t tell the whole story though: in fact, as schools shut down and the seasons change, all kinds of cold and flu symptoms are causing individuals to get themselves checked for H1N1. Isn’t this what health commissioner Tom Frieden told us to do?

Gatecrasher, the News‘ new bid to compete with Page Six, needs a little help from the front page to get off the ground before it can really be a household name. But to do that, they’ve got to get stuff in the column that is promotable to the front page of the paper. Or else someone’s got to do it for them! The four pictures of Alex Rodriguez with his ex-wife and four-year-old daughter (credited to INF Photo) are pretty unremarkable as family snaps: A. Rod seeming to lift his daughter out of the side of a van, leaning down to give her a hug, lifting her up in the air for a quick game of airplane, and one of just his wife walking down a street holding a Tupperware, aren’t particularly newsworthy unless you want to cooperate with Mr. Rodriguez’s efforts to resuscitate his image after a performance-enhancing drugs scandal. A. Rod has done quite well in the recovery department. And in terms of the popularity of his brand outside sports, the fact that Madonna now appears set to marry model Jesus Luz helps: much of the fire from Selea Roberts’ book, released early this month, concerns his relationship with the popstar, which may have been one of the reasons for the failure of his marriage. All of this is noted one way or another in the text accompanying the photos. But what’s curious is that you won’t find this Gatecrasher item online. Did the rights to this Gatecrasher exclusive not extend to the Web? And if that’s the case, what restrictions applied to their use in the paper? This giant cover treatment the photos have gotten—”A-Hug from Dad”—makes us a little queasy. And what does the News get out of it? Will A. Rod fans and enemies flock to the News at newsstands to see him hug his daughter?

Also! The News, which we’ve talked about in connection to whether or not its readers care about the Astor trial, does nod to yesterday’s developments with that now indispensable red box at the bottom: “IT’ SONS VS. FATHER AS ASTOR TRIAL HEATS UP,” reads the text, which gives us about as much as the Post gives us, minus the message that this is Big News.

General observations:The tricky thing about taking over an entire front page for a developing story, even one as great as the Astor trial, is that the copy has to live up to the moment. And especially in an ongoing saga like this trial, each headline has to add something to the record. “Daddy Dearest” could have been the coverline on any number of previous issues of the Post. It’s not as if the photography is so compelling. On the other hand, the News‘ Posty deal to get the rights to these A. Rod photos has resulted in a front-page dud and an inside disappointment. We’re left with the swine flu—again!—which, on a day when the Post had bothered would probably be a dud, too. Here, it saves the day, depressingly enough.

Winner: Daily News

WOOD WAR: 05.20.2009