Memorable headlines: BASTARDS!

Copy editors at newspapers spend a great deal of time and energy on writing headlines. And for good reason — headlines attract attention, and some live on decades after they are written. This is the fourth in a series of posts on memorable headlines.

bastards-headlineTHE HEADLINE: BASTARDS!

THE NEWSPAPER: The San Francisco Examiner

THE STORY: On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airliners on U.S. soil, flying two into the World Trade Center towers and another into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died.

ITS SIGNIFICANCE: Writing a headline about an event like the 9/11 attacks is a challenge. It’s a story that all readers know about when they pick up that issue of the newspaper. Yet it’s news of tremendous importance, and a newspaper front page — and its headlines — can show that. Plus, those front pages will be collected for posterity.

Some newspapers used quotes from President Bush or other newsmakers as their headlines. Other papers used their own words to convey a somber, day-after tone. The Examiner took a different route, tapping into the raw emotion of the moment. By using the all-caps headline, an inflammatory noun and a fiery image, the paper communicated a message of anger.

To be sure, that day was marked by a range of emotions, including anger. As the paper’s editor, David Burgin, said at the time: “It fit the rage.” Some disagreed, but as seen here, “BASTARDS!” has maintained its power over the years.

UPDATE: In June 2014, Burgin died after a series of strokes. Stories about his death, such as this one from the Orlando Sentinel, mentioned the famous headline.

1 thought on “Memorable headlines: BASTARDS!”

  1. Thanks for the link, Andy. There was a fair amount of disagreement within the Examiner and its sister papers about that headline, but we all knew that people would remember it.

    Great commentary and resources you’re presenting with this blog, by the way.

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