There's what the New York Daily News evidently considers the most important stories today: two stories related to celebrities, and something about parking.
Oh, that's just the cover, you say? Okay, let's look at the website.
1: BYU hoops star suspended for rest of the year for having sex with his girlfriend
2: First Amendment warrior? Sarah Palin rips Supreme Court's ruling on anti-gay church
3: Dumb beauty queens, piano-playing cats... Viral Video Stars: Where are they now?
4: 13-year-old girl runs away from parents to escape arranged marriage in Pakistan
5: Couple busted keeping secret meth lab inside day care center
Not that some of the issues behind those stories aren't important. Maybe the most important is the story about the Supreme Court's ruling on the Westboro Baptist Church's right to stage offensive protests at funerals. You could spend page after page looking at the issues, the history of offensive protests (starting with the Nazis marching in Skokie), a look behind the weird theology of Westboro -- but to look at the Daily News website, you'd think the story is about Sarah Palin.
Or take the story about the girl escaping from an arranged marriage. You could look at the strange mixture of fundamentalism and modernity in Pakistan, or the relationship between the U.S. and its truculent ally, or at the history of child marriage. And of course it would be a terrible thing for any young woman to be shipped off into virtual sex slavery. But I have the feeling it made the front page of the website because the girl in question is, judging from her picture, a pretty young white girl.
The New York Daily News is not to be confused with the New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the same media magnate who owns Fox News. What's on the cover of the Post today? The same story about Keith Richards' daughter, plus the new iPad. Not even Charlie Sheen!
They're just giving the people what they want.
By contrast, here's the front page of the New York Times today:
1. The battle for Libya
2. The story about the Westboro decision by the Supreme Court
3. A story about ties between Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and a charity created by an oil company
4. Assassination in Pakistan
5. Continued coverage of the political standoff in Wisconsin
6. Hockey and head injuries
The contrast is instructive. The only story the two papers have in common is the Supreme Court decision in Westboro. But the NYT story has no reaction from Sarah Palin -- indeed, from no politicians. The story focuses on the issue.
And both have a story having to do with Pakistan. The Daily News -- white slavery. The New York Times -- political assassination and unrest. Which is the more important story? Which is sexier?
When historians try to capture the era's zeitgeist, I hope they look at both papers and wonder about this contrast in tone and content.