N.Y. tabloids taking their toll on candidates

April 02, 1992|By Marc Gunther | Marc Gunther,Knight-Ridder News Service

NEW YORK -- It's morning again in the Big Apple, and the tabloids are beating up on Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown.

"If Bill Clinton is Slick Willie, then Brown is Jerry the hypocrite," writes Bob Herbert, a Daily News columnist.

"Top Democrats don't like anyone," says a headline in New York Newsday.

"Weird Sex Act in Bullpen," blares the front page of the New York Post.

Oops -- the bullpen story was about Mets pitcher David Cone, not the presidential campaign.

But the Post and its tabloid competitors are exercising what Gail Collins of Newsday described in her column as "our God-given right to spend two weeks torturing candidates to the best of our ability."

Tabloid readers may be amused by the spectacle, but the coverage is having an impact on the candidates, particularly Mr. Clinton. A WABC-TV poll last week found that more than half of New Yorkers question his honesty. Joe Klein, who covers politics for New York magazine, dubbed Tuesday's primary the "pinata primary" -- with Mr. Clinton playing the role of pinata, taking blows from all comers.

Newsday's Ms. Collins says the trial-by-tabloids is just one more stop on the road to the White House.

"You went to New Hampshire, and you had to go to all those coffee shops and shake everybody's hand in the entire state," she said. "In New York, you come and the tabloids harass you. It's part of the city. It's an interesting obstacle. It's like the Olympics where you have those events, like where you have to throw the javelin and hop over things."

While plenty of other papers have published critical stories about Mr. Clinton, the New York tabloids openly revel in the Democratic front-runner's woes.

Mike McAlary, a popular columnist for the Post, says he's doing the best he can to destroy the candidate. "It is my stated purpose in this primary to run Bill Clinton back to a segregated golf course," Mr. McAlary wrote. "Still, you have to admit, Bill Clinton has done more to bring the people of New York together than any politician in modern history," he said. "Everywhere you go, people say the same thing about Clinton: He's too big a lie to swallow."

Not to be outdone, Daily News columnist Lars-Erik Nelson wrote that Mr. Clinton "looks like the blow-dried chairman of Condo Salesmen for Christ."

Post Editor Jerry Nachman says Mr. Clinton is touchy about criticism because he had it easy before New York. "He comes from a state that has not the toughest press corps in the world," Mr. Nachman said. "Then I think he got a pass from what was a very flaccid national press." Only recently, he said, have the establishment papers taken on Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Brown has fared slightly better than Mr. Clinton, which isn't saying much. He's been called a political chameleon, and his flat-tax idea has been widely ridiculed. But several columnists, including the respected liberal Jack Newfield, have urged their readers to vote for Mr. Brown, to prevent the nomination of Mr. Clinton and to deliver a protest message to the power elite.

By far the strongest message being delivered by the tabloids is that both of the candidates are disappointing. Or, as an East Harlem assemblyman named Angelo Del Toro told the Daily News: "They're two bananas. I think everybody's going to sleep on Election Day."

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