The New York Post’s Awful Ilhan Omar Cover Makes Perfect Sense When You See Who’s Working for Them as a Consultant

The April 11 cover of the New York Post.
Photo illustration by Slate

Yemeni American bodega owners in New York City stopped selling the New York Post this week in protest of a cover image that was inflammatory even by the standards of the tabloid’s reputation. The April 11 issue featured a photograph of the World Trade Center burning on Sept. 11, 2001, and a response to a quote from Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose line in a recent speech about how terrorists “did something” on 9/11 has set off a furor among Republicans. “Here’s your something: 2,977 people dead by terrorism,” the Post’s cover blared in response. “What The New York Post is doing is endangering the lives of American Muslims and people of color,” a leader of the Yemeni American Merchants Association said in announcing the boycott. Among other demands, the group is asking the paper’s editor in chief, Stephen Lynch, to resign.

The Post’s foes may want to train their attention on another name in the Post orbit: Col Allan, the paper’s former longtime editor in chief who quietly returned as a consultant in January. Joe Pompeo reported in Vanity Fair that Allan had been sitting next to Lynch in editorial meetings and had installed himself in a conference room at the paper. Sources told Pompeo that Allan’s mandate is to hone the paper’s coverage of Donald Trump and elevate stories that are “on brand” with the Post’s reputation. (The Post declined to comment on Allan’s specific involvement in the Omar cover.)

The New York Post has always been known for its punchy populism, but Allan’s return seems to have injected some new … heat into its veins. The paper has turned its attention to the so-called border crisis, lamenting “DOOR WIDE OPEN” on April 13. A few days earlier, when Trump threatened to send immigrants to “sanctuary cities,” its cover channeled the president’s voice, shouting: “YOU TAKE ’EM.” (The New York Daily News’ cover the same day read “WE’LL TAKE THEM,” providing the latest installment in a long-running newsstand debate between the two tabloids.) Along the way, of course, it has also continued to cover classic Post-style stories, one definition of which is: Can we slap a dick joke on this? In February alone, that included Robert Kraft’s charge with soliciting a prostitute (“INFLATE GATE”), Jeff Bezos’ blackmail allegations (“BEZOS EXPOSES PECKER”), and Anthony Weiner’s release from prison (“WEINER POPS OUT”).

Allan came to the Post in 2001 from Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney. In New York, the Australian editor saw himself as “something like Murdoch’s id incarnate,” as Lloyd Grove wrote in a 2007 profile that depicted Allan as a hard-drinking, temperamental strip-club habitué with little patience for the stuffy norms of American  journalism. Allan took responsibility for a 2004 “exclusive” in which the Post wrongly reported that John Kerry had chosen Rep. Dick Gephardt as his running mate. (Murdoch himself was widely assumed to be the source of the bad tip.) After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Allan’s Post ran a photograph of two men sought by law enforcement, who turned out not to be suspects. Allan went on record standing by the decision, despite widespread criticism that the paper had irresponsibly implied the men were suspects. He outraged his own staff by assigning 16 reporters to track a mentally ill homeless man for a series of stories about the city’s supposed failure to manage its homeless population. By the time he retired in 2016, he was Murdoch’s longest-serving editor.

The Post is said to be Trump’s favorite newspaper. The paper and the president share a brash, bullying style of urban secular conservatism and an uncanny nose for storylines that will play with aggrieved white people. Shortly before he retired, Allan was rumored to sport a Make America Great Again hat around the office. The Post’s treatment of Trump under his watch wasn’t exactly reverent: The paper crowed that he’d been “CRUZ-IFIED” when Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus. But Allan’s oversight may augur a renewed relationship with the White House. On March 25, it trumpeted the completion of the Mueller report, which it summed up as “NO Collusion NO Obstruction: Two years of hysteria end in Trump vindication.” “I like the Donald a lot,” Allan said at a 2017 awards ceremony at the Melbourne Press Club. “He’s a tabloid newspaper editor’s dream.”