June 11, 2008

Today's Front Pages Analysis

Attack of the killer tomatoes!

You say “to-may-to” and I say “to-mah-to.” But however we say it, it’s front-page news. Since mid-April, salmonella-tainted tomatoes have sickened more than 150 people in 17 states, putting restaurants and consumers on alert. Today newspapers across the country highlighted the story as health officials, searching for the outbreak’s source, struggled to ketchup.

Forgive me. Please don’t throw tomatoes.

In Casa Grande, Ariz. — not far from Mexico, where the western U.S. gets much of its tomato supply — The Dispatch warns that this story is “Bad news no matter how you slice it.” To prove it, they use a photo of a tomato sliced in half. The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., introduces its center-page story as “Cooks, diners hold the tomatoes.” And in Canton, Ohio, The Repository calms few nerves with the all-caps “RED SCARE.”

Worries surrounding the popular fruit have grown south of the border, too. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Día devotes the entire page to “Temor por el tomate” and uses a photo of a tomato wearing a yellow sash labeled “Precaución,” like some downfallen beauty queen. In Mérida, Mexico, the Diario de Yucatán reads “Investigan al tomato.”

After issuing a voluntary ban, the FDA has approved the tomatoes of many counties in Florida, the state that dominates the eastern U.S. market. There, in Sebring, Highlands Today plays up the “Red Fruit Alert” in a font colored — what else? — red. Also earning the stamp of FDA approval: the Creole tomatoes of Louisiana, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. California, too, is in the clear, though the Ventura County Star points out that, financially, “Tomato industry in a pickle,” while the Santa Barbara News-Press says the public is “Seeing red.”

Neighbors to the north might be benefitting from the whole thing. Toronto’s The Globe and Mail notes that “Canada profits from tomato fears” and, in a subheadline, “buyers turn to B.C., Ontario.” The Ottawa Sun seconds this theory and promises a Page 2 story.

Through it all, Alaska continues to play it cool. The Anchorage Daily News recommends that “If you’re worried, eat local produce” and instead gives its front-page focus to a story about the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s testing of bear-proof trash cans. In the trash cans, so irresistible to bears: salmon, peanut butter, and red, round, juicy, delicious apples.

Hicks Wogan is a staff assistant at the Newseum.

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