By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How to play the skinhead story

In a news environment dominated by television and the Internet, I suppose it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference whether any given newspaper plays up or plays down the alleged skinhead plot to murder black schoolchildren and assassinate Barack Obama.

Will playing it on the front page trigger a copycat response? Can burying it inside somehow be justified as more responsible? Regardless, I suspect the impact is quite a bit less than seeing it on TV.

Still, it’s interesting to look at the different ways that newspapers are playing it today. I’ll start with Boston: the Globe runs a small tease on the front, below the fold; the Herald gives over two-thirds of page one to a headline that reads “NUTZIES TARGET OBAMA.”

The contrast is even greater in New York. There’s not even a mention of the story anywhere on the front of the Times; the story itself is relegated to page A14. The tabloid New York Post, by contrast, leads with a giant “WHACK JOB,” driving home the point with this: “Loony skinheads in Obama murder plot.” The entire front consists of a photo of suspect Daniel Cowart posing with a gun that looks like it could launch a nuclear missile.

New York’s slightly more restrained tabloid, the Daily News, makes no mention of the plot on its front page, going with the death of Jennifer Hudson’s nephew and the state’s $12 billion budget deficit.

In Washington, the alleged plot gets the silent treatment on the front pages of both the Post and the Times. Ditto in Obama’s hometown, Chicago, which also happens to be where Hudson lives, and whose tragedy occupies the front pages of the Tribune and the Sun-Times.

The story gets a tease on the front of USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, which makes sense, given how much space those papers set aside for such things; but nothing on page one of the Los Angeles Times or the San Francisco Chronicle.

Based on what we know so far, this story seems more frightening than newsworthy. It plays into the fears we all have about what may happen if Obama is elected president. Thankfully, the skinheads who were arrested yesterday appear to be so inept that they were caught before they could do much more than talk about their sick plans.

As for how the papers should have played it — not to wimp out, but it’s hard to disagree with anyone on this. It’s what people are talking about, which argues in favor of the way the New York Post and the Boston Herald played it. But it’s more pseudo-news than news, which suggests that inside the paper is where it really belongs.

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  1. Steve

    I agree with you, Dan. It seems much more in the realm of loony-tunes than an actual threat. On one level, I’m glad it’s being taken seriously, but on another, it doesn’t seem like their “plans” had much chance of success.But Steve Benen has a more complete version of the statement from the Tennessee Republican Party:“Hate is not a political party, policy statement, agenda or ideology — it is a pure evil that no place in civil society,” said Robin Smith, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. “Whether it is neo-Nazi skinheads plotting a racist shooting spree targeting Sen. Obama, or West Hollywood liberals hanging Gov. Sarah Palin in effigy and calling it ‘art,’ or unknown anarchists tossing bricks through the windows of a county Republican headquarters in Murfreesboro, Americans of all political views should be outraged.”Which raises the question – Does the Tennessee GOP really believe that random vandalism is really comparable to a plot to murder more than a hundred children?

  2. Ani

    I don’t know whether the Tennessee GOP’s statement reminds me more of an attempt at the kind of mediation in which both parties are assumed to be equally right and equally wrong, so the mediator tries to just split the thing down the middle, or aggressive bargaining in which the buyer sets out an extreme counter-offer with the hope that doing so may result in a final price more to his/her liking. Maybe we should ask them which kind of activity they would prefer to be on the receiving end of.

  3. zadig

    Also interesting is to compare this coverage to the numerous stupid-but-scary “terrorist” plots that the Bush administration has uncovered since 9/11, including the one where the alleged terrorists were going to cut all the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge and the one where they were enticed by an undercover agent to accept some heavy weaponry they hadn’t actually been shopping for. Virtually every one of the “plots” was too stupid and inept to ever work, and yet the nation’s newshounds dutifully gave it all front-page headlines for weeks on end, until they fizzled and then they were never heard from again.

  4. acf

    While I think the threat warranted serious investigation and action, it probably wasn’t very viable as far as Barack Obama was concerned, although history is littered with cases of similarly lightweight plots yielding tragic results. OTOH, NUTZIES TARGET OBAMA is not what I would point out as the way to go for a newspaper to cover the story. It doesn’t say much about the Herald, or the kind of reader it hopes will buy its paper that it uses that for a headline.

  5. tvoh

    I can’t believe Dan ran with this, as there’s guns and no Palin connection.So ani and Steve, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I’m sure you are the guys to ask.

  6. Ani

    tvoh,Dancing in pairs or solo?

  7. tvoh

    Dancing in pairs or solo?Your the expert.

  8. Ani

    tvoh,OK, in pairs an infinite number, solo they merge as one (see parallel in Plato’s Parmenides). And thanks for asking.

  9. Bill Toscano

    Dan: One of the reasons I like reading you is that we think alike.I was wondering how various papers played it. (Yes, I bought a Post for that very reason).I don’t think it was in the local 30,000 daily, and many newspaper websites played it way down.

  10. tvoh

    Oh ani, How sophisticated. C’mon be real and just say either tango or foxtrot.

  11. Ani

    tvoh,What’s that line from that song? “I hope you dance …” But you gotta lose that anger first.

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