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.