The Post has long been New York’s most indigenous and indignant paper, so fiery a daily tract it leaves your hands looking burnt, a blur of hard news and harder opinion packaged to invite and outrage.
Never has it outraged more than in its coverage of the Bush-Gore postelection battle, and the Senate campaign of Hillary Clinton. The 18 chronological covers above epitomize the paper’s bone-rattling Bush drumbeat—usually five or more stridently slanted pages a day, continuing now into the new year, with the paper’s lockstep celebration of each cabinet addition. Similarly, its front-page John Zogby polls—boosting the vanquished Rick Lazio right up to Election Day—were an embarrassment.
As we begin an election year with every municipal office term-limited and up for grabs, as well as pivotal statewide elections on the horizon, the sharper partisan and ideological edge to the Post may diminish its credibility in the city, where Bush got only 18 percent of the vote. Already a model of commanding display, the paper will go color this summer or early fall, with a new printing plant fully up and running by October, when it plans a 200th anniversary bash that will probably feature Bush. A color Post—half the price of its competitors and with circulation steadily growing—could help shape the mayoral and other contests. But if it is as shrill as it has been in recent months, it will undermine itself.
It employs a cadre of skillful reporters and editors—Dave Seifman, Stu Marques, Fred Dicker, John Mancini, Bob Hardt, Gregg Birnbaum, Tom Topousis, Murray Weiss, Maggie Haberman, Carl Campanile, and Maria Alvarez. Its editorial page is run by Bob McManus, a principled conservative who cares more about policy than politics. But ever since Xana Antunes, a 36-year-old Scot who paints her toenails blue and stays out of the limelight, took over as editor in chief a year ago, the paper has pushed its usual right-wing tilt to new extremes.
When Antunes got the job last February, The London Daily Telegraph reported that she “caught the eye” of Rupert Murdoch while the Post‘s business editor. The Telegraph said Murdoch was “known to use the holder of that position as his personal wire service,” and insiders say that she remains in day-to-day touch with the multimedia czar about the paper, stamping his will on it.
A Fleet Street product, Antunes does not seem to have the same ear for what works politically in New York as her Brit predecessor, Ken Chandler, who’s moved up to publisher. Or perhaps it’s the Web audience and copy needs of the greater Fox empire that’s shaping the paper, particularly its national coverage. Jill Carvajal, the general manager for nypost.com, says the site is averaging 20 million page views a month now, doubling over the last year and a half. She also says hits jumped by over 20 percent “during the Bush-Gore election.” As the flagship of Murdoch’s American empire, Fox Cable News frequently builds its national shows around a Post exclusive. The Bush coverage, and even some of the Hillary scorchers, appear far more attuned to this coast-to-coast conservative audience than to a New York City readership.
If that’s the imperative that’s driving the national headlines, it’s less likely to contaminate city coverage. Mayoral hopeful Mark Green has already come in for some cheap shots in the paper—for example, last week’s balanced news story about a no-soft-money pledge was called a “gimmick” in the headline despite Green’s strong record on campaign finance reform. Green’s spokesman, Joe DePlasco, told the Voice: “We’re not going to get into a pissing match with the Post. We hold it to the same high standard of honesty and intelligence that we hold ourselves to. We expect to have a fair hearing.”
Since the Post has no Rudy Giuliani to champion in 2001—unless Mike Bloomberg becomes one—perhaps Green will.
Research: Jennifer Sain and Laurence Pantin