Tuesday, May 18, 2004


I believe I should offer an explanation of one of the phrases I frequently use within my columns. This phrase is front-page-above-the-fold (FPAF).

What this refers to is the placement of an article in the morning paper. While I usually use it within the context of a criticism of the paper of record (the appellation of which the referred paper worked hard to distance itself from four Sunday editions ago. “Paper of Record? No Way, No Reason, No Thanks” April 25, 2004), it can equally apply to any daily broadsheet.

The purpose of the FPAF descriptor is to point out editorial bias. When the paper is laid out, someone makes the decision on where particular news reports, news analysis, human interests stories, etc will be presented to its morning readers. Barefoot and heading pounding from caffeine withdrawal, you walk to the end of the driveway grateful that the paper was not thrown into the dewy grass, you pick-up the paper and quickly scan the front-page-above-the-fold. Bang! Your framework for that morning’s news is set.

It also happens to act as the cover of the paper when presented at the newsstands. If you’re waiting for the train and forgot to bring something to read on the ride (a thought that has me in a cold sweat. The horror!), then you scan across the various dailies to see what articles you think are most interesting. As the front-page articles usually receive the most column space, these act as an indication of what you will read as you sit on the train (and if it is a Metro-North train, in an air-conditioned car!) This is a concept we have no problems applying to magazine covers. What makes us think it doesn’t apply to newspapers?

So this morning The Journal News was greeted me with a headline regarding the assassination via car bomb of the head of the Iraqi Governing Council (The paper was in the driveway.) The New York Sun greeted me with the headline “Sarin-Laced Bomb Reverberates in Washington”. (The paper was in the dewy grass.) Neither headline surprised me. I considered both pieces of news the biggest ones of the previous day. I was very disappointed that The Journal News did not mention the WMD, I mean sarin-laced bomb, on the front page at all.

With these two front pages on my mind by 6:30 AM, my curiosity was piqued about what would lead the FPAF of The New York Times (the already-mentioned three papers, along with The Wall Street Journal, make-up my daily news-reading.) I walked into the station house around 7:00 AM in the midst of a Rotisserie baseball discussion with my brother, another early morning ritual. And what were the FPAF stories? One sixth of the FPAF covered the assassination. Nowhere was the WMD, I mean sarin-laced bomb, mentioned. But how could it be when the paper-of-record had to devote equal space to MPs’ receiving orders to strip Iraqis? I guess its readership can never get enough forced male nudity stories!

Now the mathematicians in my audience have discerned that I have only accounted for two sixths of the FPAF. (For those numerically-challenged, 1/6 plus another equal amount is 2/6. Never mind reducing that fraction. This tangent has been explored enough!) What happened to the other four sixths? It was devoted to, and a quote of the headline should be adequate, “Hundreds of Same-Sex Couples Wed in Massachusetts” There was no exclamation point, but it is understood. After all why devote 4/6 of the front-page headlines to something that is not exclamation point worthy when the previous days news included a WMD, I mean sarin-laced, bomb being detonated by terrorists in Iraq and the assassination of the head of the Iraqi Governing Council?

All this leads me towards an op-ed piece in this morning’s The New York Sun. It was penned by none other than the former executive editor of the paper of record, A.M. Rosenthal. Within the text of the article, which scolds today’s press for failing to include background on the “mass Iraqi torture and murder” under Saddam Hussein, Mr. Rosenthal discloses the well-know secret amongst conservatives, and the blacked-out one amongst the Left, that “Readers should realize that the positioning of the story and the space allotted to it day after day tell you what the editors and publishers think about its importance….”

So would Mr. Rosenthal agree that The New York Times cares most about men being forced to get naked by other men and about men marrying men and women marrying women as opposed to WMDs?

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