John Leo

Other old-time News heads include these: "Sic Transit Gloria Monday" (the custody hearing on little rich girl Gloria Vanderbilt will be held on Monday), "Says Wife Made Time With a Newsweek Man," and "Rooney, a Pint, Takes a Fifth" (Mickey Rooney's fifth wedding).

The New York Post has contributed many memorable headlines, including "Headless Body in Topless Bar," "Mama Osama Prays for Her Little Monster" (interview with bin Laden's mother), "Kato the Lyin' King" (story on Kato Kaelin), and "Wacko Jacko Backo" (Michael Jackson attempting a comeback).

Calvin Trillin, a very funny writer, authored the best unused headline for a parody issue of the New York Post, back in the 1960s when the paper was liberal. Trillin's head said, "Cold Snap Hits Our Town; Jews, Negroes Suffer Most." Something roughly similar actually appeared in the Los Angeles Catholic newspaper after the 1965 riots in Watts. The headline said something like this: "Watts Erupts in Rioting: No Priests or Nuns Hurt."

A Catholic paper in Oklahoma ran an equivalent head, pointing out that a devastating tornado had spared all known priests and nuns. This meant that Catholics in Oklahoma, picking up the paper with trembling hand to check the denominational impact of the twister, could breathe a sigh of relief. Hundreds may be dead and a Protestant minister or two may have bought the farm, but the essential news was thumbs up: Priests and nuns were safe.

Boring headlines draw lots of comment, too. Recently I saw a head in The Economist: "Special Report: Zambian Copper." This was entirely too special for me, so I skipped it, along with an earlier reader-proof head, "Ghana Reshuffles Cabinet." In the 1920s, the British writer Claud Cockburn won a contest among editors to place the most boring head in The Times of London. His winner was, "Small Earthquake in Chile; Not Many Dead."

In 1986, columnist Michael Kinsley ran his own contest. He found a great crop of contenders, including "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," "Prevent Burglary by Locking House, Detectives Urge," and "Chill Falls on Warming Relations between Australia and Indonesia." In the end he gave the prize to a subhead from a science section (of course) in The New York Times: "Debate Goes on Over Nature of Reality." Not bad, but it should have been: "Reality Debate More Extensive Than Previously Believed."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

Be the first to read John Leo's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.