Wraps and wrongs

Jun 1, 2005 at 12:00 am
Some days, some weeks, in 21st-century Detroit, it’s hard to decide which to choose first when it’s again time to hammer the bung into the barrel, drain off the murky water, and start shooting the fish inside …

GOD BLESS AMERICA! EVERYTHING PRICED TO MOVE! Bin Laden Captured (See Page 3): All those identical U.S. flags showing through the windows of Detroit News and Free Press boxes last Wednesday didn’t mean they forgot that Memorial Day was still five days away.

They were there because both newspapers, joined at the head by a single-mindedly venal business office, sold the most sacrosanct piece of real estate in any self-respecting, reader-oriented newspaper: Page One. They also sold page 2 and the last two pages of the A section to Marshall Field’s as ad space for the chain’s holiday sale. That’s called a "wrap" in the publishing biz, and it’s not uncommon to see the money-grubbing gimmick on magazines.

But now Detroit’s once-great daily papers have finally come out of the closet and made it plain that paid advertising has a higher priority than the news content. More disturbing still is the near total lack of public reaction from readers or the journalism community itself.

While Detroit slides closer by the day to insolvency and receivership; while Michigan’s governor gropes randomly for the means to avert its, and her own, demise; while those who, at least in theory, will be remembered on this and future Memorial Days are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan; your News and Free Press made sure you first knew that underwear and latte makers can be had at a discount in the mall on Monday. And the Freep, which already gave away a chunk of its irreplaceable credibility with the transparent and inept handling of l’affaire d’Albom, further distinguished itself the next day by devoting half of its front page to tips on driving up North for the holiday weekend.

Y’all’s Boy, Nazis in Detroit and the Sun King: As we foretold here months ago, Detroit’s mayoral campaign is unfolding as the ugliest, most divisive and hateful in modern memory. Dirty-trickster and political consultant Adolph Mongo, whose services are eagerly sought by candidates primarily as a way to keep him and his strident racist rebop out of the opposition camps, only a year or so ago was painting Kwame Kilpatrick as a shill for Republicans in the charter schools debate. Now he’s the boy-mayor’s lead campaign mouthpiece.

Make that "y’all’s boy" (as opposed to "theirs"), the easily decoded phrase Kilpatrick’s old-pol mother used at his campaign announcement. As Kilpatrick’s father Bernard — a former McNamara machine hack — stupidly tried to equate the "media conspiracy" against his son to the Nazi Big Lie that led to the extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II, Mongo was scuttling behind the scenes stacking the deck with more dog-eared race cards. For those unfamiliar with Detroit political argot, Kilpatrick’s campaign billboard slogan "Our Mayor" also translates as the opposite of the sinister "their" mayor.

Meanwhile, in a city that’s perennially recognized nationally for the high quality of its tap water, Our Mayor defended the purchase of bottled water for city employees by saying, "Slavery is over. We don’t need massa to tell us to get some water. If my employees want water, they’re going to get water." Not only was it a pathetically comic non sequitur, but the reference to "my employees" had the feel of pre-Revolutionary France’s Sun King, Louis XIV, and his declaration that he and the state were one and the same. L’état c’est moi, y’all.

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