The return of the Star’s Creative Headline Writing Team?


by David Safier

There was a time when nary a week went by without me going after a horrible headline in the Star. People who "read the head" and passed on the story too often got a wildly distorted idea of the article's contents. But I've stopped writing those posts, because the Star's headlines improved considerably.

So I'm not going to rant and rave about today's bad headline in the Opinion section (not too much anyway), only comment on it and hope it's a bug, not a feature. The Star's head on Doyle McManus' LA Times op ed reads:

From combative Obama, a clenched fist

"Clenched fist." I searched for the word "fist" in the column, then I searched for "clenched." Not only were they nowhere to be found, but there was no language nearly as aggressive as the phrase "clenched fist." "Combative"? Good choice for the head. The word is in the 4th paragraph. But "clenched fist"? Not even close.

McManus' column says Obama's "combative" tone in his Inaugural Address could make it hard for him to win the Republican votes he'll need to pass his agenda. Fair enough. I don't think singing, Barry White-like, "I'm so in lo-o-ove with you" while looking into John Boehner's eyes would have helped encourage Republicans to meet Obama halfway, but that's OK. McManus makes a reasonable point.

But "clenched fist"? There's nothing anywhere near that threatening.

In the third paragraph, McManus writes "it was hard to find that outstretched hand in the inaugural speech." Toward the end, he revives the metaphor: "This year, instead of an outstretched hand, he delivered a slap." (You don't slap with a clenched fist, nor does "slap" sound like something a street thug might do. It's more like a gentleman's challenge to a duel.) In between, he said Obama "issued a series of surprisingly tart political zingers," and the speech was "a progressive's call to arms."

"Call to arms." Now there's a phrase that captures the column well. Obama wants his side to fight aggressively for its agenda, not surrender before the battle starts. The LA Times thought it was an apt phrase. It titled the original column:

Obama's call to arms

It's really pretty easy. Find something in the column that's catchy at the same time it captures the writer's tone and meaning. It's even easier when the paper of origin lays it out for you so nicely.