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News That Should’ve Been Headlined Differently

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Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller, once said, “They’re just words.” This from a man who named his television program Bullshit. I’m a huge fan of the great P&T, but c’mon – would “Crap!” have worked?

If Penn is to be believed, it should have – but it wouldn’t have because they’re not “just words” anymore than Gudrun’s cocoa-dusted truffles are “just sweets.”

The way we use words is a science unto itself. News sources count on words to do more than tell a story. Words get you to read the story.

Will we turn to page A4 after the least bit of lead or will we just move on to the next headline? Will we click to see what happened or will we keep surfing?

The answer is in the headline. To get the most readers, you gotta make it juicy, enticing, and — if possible — sexy and/or violent.

Accuracy often takes a backseat to anything that’ll make us feel anxious if we don’t read it, and hard facts might take a holiday when readership is down and our need for sensationalism is up.

If you want to know what the words of a headline really mean, just flip it around and see what floats to the surface.

Original Headline
Cartel 'Stewmaker' Says He Dissolved 300 Bodies

Revised Headline
Drug Lord Not Arrested for 300 Counts of Murder

Santiago Meza Lopez told Mexican police he is a “stewmaker,” but this man is no chef. In the course of his work for drug lord Teodoro Garcia Simental, Meza dissolved about 300 bodies in acid for $600 a week. He told authorities that the dead and disposed of had betrayed or were indebted to Garcia, who has not been found and charged with multiple murders.

Based on information provided by Meza, officials are looking for the bodies instead. Meza hopes the families of the deceased can forgive him, but I think the most he can hope for at this point is a variation on the Bible’s advice – in this case, perhaps a fry for a fry.

Original Headline
Nigerian Police Detain Goat Over Armed Robbery

Revised Headline
Nigerians are Fucking Crazy
or
Goats are Smarter than Nigerian Police

Witnesses said an armed robber used magic to turn himself into a goat in an attempt to avoid arrest, so they captured and turned the goat over to authorities. Nigerian police did not release the goat, instead taking into custody.

Kwara state police spokesman, Tunde Mohammed, said, "We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical. It is something that has to be proved scientifically, that a human being turned into a goat.”

Yes, that’s what’s missing from this investigation: science.

I’ll keep an eye on this story and let you know if the goat is convicted or slated for a role in the next Harry Potter movie.

Original Headline
‘Hillside Burglar’ Suspect Held; L.A.'s Rich Relieved

Revised Headline
Rich People Have the Worst Alarm Systems
or
Goats are Smarter than L.A.’s Rich

Troy Thomas went from auto broker to breaking into homes, but not just any homes. Authorities say Thomas is the ringleader of the so-called ‘Hillside Burglars’, a group of guys who have burgled 150 homes in the nation’s most posh and gated communities, like Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, and Beverly Hills, for a hefty haul of some $10 million worth of cash and stuff. L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss said, "These guys were real good. They were professionals."

Even more professional than the security companies that manned the gates and installed and maintained all those alarm systems, eh?

Just in case you’re looking to career-hop the way Thomas did, Robert Ringler, president of the Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council, unwittingly provides a how-to, of sorts. He says communities like his are the perfect targets. “You can access the property and nobody would ever see you."

Additionally, Ringler pointed out, a lot of the homes are in secluded areas like the sides of mountains and canyons, and behind gates, so thieves can escape without being seen and it’s difficult for police to get there in a hurry.

In case you need tips that even Thomas didn’t use, Ringler also says you could dress up like the help and get right in without notice. That’s less about how to pass into a house undetected and more about how many rich people have no idea who cleans their toilets. Whatever; it works to a thief’s advantage.

The police say the burglars’ methods were “sophisticated,” citing how Thomas and his band of merry men broke into homes while the owners were away on vacation or away for the night. When breaking into homes that didn’t have alarms on the second floor, the burglars employed outdoor furniture and ladders.

Whoa! Talk about groundbreaking. Throw in night-vision goggles, grappling hooks, and George Clooney, and that’s still a boring movie.

Thomas and his motley crew didn’t attack anyone because they preferred “stealth to confrontation.” Yea, I’ll bet they preferred assets to assault charges.

When it became clear they were being targeted, area residents said they “learned” (their word, not mine) to hide their stuff, lock their windows, and get alarm systems and insurance. With that announcement, the ears of scam artists perked up around the world.

West L.A. Police advisory board member, Steve Twining, thinks the crimes will keep happening. "In these dire economic times, I don't think it's going to dissuade others from trying to do the same thing. The burglary situation will probably get worse before it gets better."

Well sure, thanks to guys like Ringler – and the rich people's motto-mantra: “We’ll leave the light on for ya.”

Original Headline
Camden Building Used as Refuge for Homeless

Revised Headline
Leaving Doors Unlocked Costs Less Than Building Shelter

When you think about homeless people seeking refuge in whatever shelter they can find to keep from freezing to death, do you also think about slumber parties? Philly.com staff writer Mark Katz does. He described a temporary shelter from the bitter cold as “part slumber party and part refuge.”

This kind of super-sensitive writing style is to be expected when the story is all about how gracious Camden County, New Jersey is because they don’t lock the doors of a drab county administration building, and instead allow it to be used by those who might otherwise, you know, die and stuff.

They’ve even gone so far as to call this purposeful pass-over of the keys a “program.”

Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez is credited with having started the “warming center” three years ago. “We're just trying to keep people safe. This gives them a little reprieve from the cold so in the morning we're not scraping people off the ground because it's so cold."

Can you feel the love? I can feel the love. I can also feel my fingers, which is more than can be said for Camden’s unfortunates who, before this outpouring of generosity, were freezing — sometimes to, you know, death.

Seriously, kudos to Rodriguez: she’s actually doing something with what little she’s been given to work with — which is so not in the Camden budget. Hers is an infinitely better idea than providing nothing, which is how her great-uncle ended up freezing to death on a bench in Philadelphia.

You have to wonder how that meeting went between Rodriguez and Camden County.

County official: “Ms. Rodriguez, we don’t have the money for a shelter. Besides, I’m warm enough right now, even in this drafty old building. How cold can it really be? Won’t a tree suffice?”

Rodriguez: “With all due respect, it’s four below outside. The trees are frozen.”

CO: “Well, heh heh, I suppose we could, heh heh, leave the doors unlocked on one of the lesser-used government buildings. Heh heh.”

R: “Fine, I’ll take it.”

CO: “Wait, I was just kidding.”

R: “All council members in favor say ‘aye’.”

Other Camden officials: "Aye." “Sure, why not.” “Whatever gets them out from under my porch.”

CO: “This is an outrage!”

OCO: “No, this is us not spending a quarter of a million dollars on a slumber party. Somebody get that Katz guy to do a story. We’re gonna need some good PR on this.”

Check back often for more news that should’ve been headlined differently.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.