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The New York Post
When I was growing up, my father and many other Jewish working and lower middle class people like himself treated The New York Post as their political Bible. In those years it was a tabloid, owned by a wealthy, politically liberal, Dorothy Schiff. Despite emphasizing scandal and human interest stories, the paper boasted a lively sports page, some distinctive columnists like the elegant and ironic enemy of cant and political and economic privilege, Murray Kempton, and passionate liberal ones like Mary McGrory, and its courageous chief editor, James Wechsler. It also had literate streetwise reporters like Pete Hamill, some unique comic strips like Pogo and Mary Worth, and a hard-hitting, if unsubtle, political cartoonist—Herblock.
But the city began to change by the 70s, and the sons and daughters of its working class readership had either moved up the social class ladder and begun to read The New York Times, or left the metropolitan area altogether. And those who remained embedded in the working class had moved politically to the right on many issues, just as the city itself became more psychically enthralled with people who lived high or were famous—turning away from its socially committed ethos of earlier decades.
The Post also had lost its edge— becoming much duller— and it was losing money. Consequently, Schiff sold the paper to Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch in 1977. Murdoch gradually turned the Post into what it looks like today—a right wing scandal sheet with bold, catchy headlines (its most memorable, ”Headless Body in Topless Bar”), a great many celebrity gossip columns, and scoop-driven, politically slanted news coverage where the distinction between reportage and opinion is blurred.
The New York Post has an honoured history. It is one of the oldest newspapers still published in the United States. Alexander Hamilton founded it in 1801 as The New York Evening Post, a broadsheet quite unlike today's tabloid, and its most famous 19th-century editor was the poet William Cullen Bryant, a strong Abolitionist and defender of free speech. And from 1883 on, its editor was a reform Republican, E. L. Godkin, who relentlessly attacked Tammany Hall, describing its leaders as “dive-keepers” and “pugilists.”
Today the Post’s style and substance is far removed from its august 19th century ancestor. The Post also loses a great deal of money, but Murdoch (who is chief executive of News Corp., that owns the Fox Broadcasting Company, Twentieth Century Fox and many other media outlets in the U.S. and abroad) has big pockets and is engaged in a newspaper war with the city’s other tabloid, The Daily News, owned by billionaire real estate developer, Mortimer B. Zuckerman. Most big U.S. cities have only a single daily, but New York is the exception—it has four. The News remains much the stronger paper financially (its advertising revenues are much greater), but in the last five years the Post boosted its average weekday circulation by 49%, to 686,207 papers. And the Post is going all out to destroy its tabloid competitor by lowering its newsstand price to 25 cents, as well as building a new $250 million printing plant that has greatly improved the paper's look.
Scanning the Post the last few weeks it’s clear that its appeal rests much more in its sensational coverage of crime, sex, accidents, natural disasters and the foibles of the famous (“Jude [Law] Woos Sienna”) than in its conservative politics. A couple of weeks ago I picked up the paper and the front page carried a headline “Wasted”, and beneath it a large colour photo of a beautiful co-ed who died of a drug overdose on the Lower East Side. Inside the paper there is a story about a “randy” 79-year-old rector at St. Patrick’s Cathedral who had an affair with his married aide, another about John Gotti’s prison conversations, and a salacious gossip item about the underwear that Westchester DA, and Republican Senatorial candidate, Jeanine Pirro, buys. On another day there is a gruesome piece about a thug with AIDs who spat blood on the cops who arrested him.
The paper’s columnists include the sinister Robert Novak and the insidious inside-dopester Richard Morris—the ex-Clinton adviser whose columns now regularly bash the Clintons and other Democrats. Other columnists also adhere closely to a conservative line. Even gossip columnist, Cindy Adams, derided Jane Fonda for being “born with a silver hoof in the mouth” because of her anti-Iraq war statements. And on any given day the editorials will predictably support Wal-Mart against demands for more generous employee health insurance and, without a hint of embarrassment, ask the Democratic candidates for New York’s mayor to take “notice of the extraordinary service” George W provided the city after 9/11 instead of attacking him.
The Post paradoxically is both anti-elitist, and loves big money tycoons when they are on top, and supports legislation that only gives aid and comfort to the wealthy and corporations. (Come to think of it, a large swathe of the American public shares those same contradictory impulses.) Despite his right wing conservative agenda, Murdoch is pragmatic enough to support Tony Blair and on alternate days say nice things about Hillary. He likes winners, and takes care to keep on the good side of those who hold power.
Though I personally find the Post repellent, Murdoch has created a skilfully seductive tabloid built on the notion that a public that is primarily interested in sensation and titillation may, at the same time, absorb some of the hard right politics that the paper incessantly promotes. L. Quart