Headline of the week

As a professional headline-writer, I recognize excellence of the highest order when I see it in a headline.  We have just been graced with a work of art that I hope will be long remembered. You can count on your fingers the number of headlines that have lingered in the collective memory for decades.

There is the immortal New York Post headline that both shocked and amused:

When the author of that immortal prose, Vincent Musetto, passed away, The Post eulogized him with its own headline, “Genius behind ‘Headless body in Topless Bar’ Headline Dies at 73,” and wrote of his masterpiece:

“Headless Body in Topless Bar” ran on The Post’s front page on April 15, 1983. As witty as it was horrific, it expressed with unflinching precision the city’s ­accelerating tailspin into an abyss of atrocious crime and chaos.

“Headless Body” soon became the stuff of pop-culture legend. “Saturday Night Live” worked it into routines and David Letterman invited Musetto onto his late-night show to talk about it. It even became the title of a 1990s crime movie.

But Musetto, a managing editor, had to fight to get “Headless Body” into the paper. He pleaded with then-executive editor Roger Wood, who was equally appalled by the crime.

Expressing with precision a widely feared phenomenon while, telling the truth in a small handful of words, seems to be a big part of an immortal headline. Another editor who gained immortality from a headline was not so happy with his achievement at the time.  Kirk Scharfenberg was the editorial page editor of the Boston Globe during the disastrous presidency of Jimmy Carter, and as a joke put a headline on a column about the president’s latest speech, “More Mush from the Wimp,” expecting that others in the production process would recognize the sarcastic joke. The intended headline was the entirely forgettable, “All Must Share the Burden,” but 161,000 copies went out with the better headline.  (I was among the lucky subscribers to the Globe who received the witty version, and my eyeballs almost popped out from their sockets when I saw it.)

Unlike Musetto, Sharfenberg got a lot of grief at the liberal Globe for telling the truth.  But as with editor Musetto, editor Sharfenberg’s obituary in the New York Times made mention of his most famous work, but spared readers the prose in its headline.

Which brings us to this week’s headline genius, who, at the moment, remains anonymous. I refer to this article from The Washington Examiner.

Time to take the car keys away from Granny Clinton

This hits us where we live.  When a parent reaches the point of being unsafe behind the wheel, it is heartrending for family members to end the mobility. But in order to protect the rest of us, it must be done. This is resonant, to say the least.


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