10 Headline Bloopers That Probably Got Someone Fired

One of the most important skills a copy editor can have is a dirty, skeptical mind. If you can spot sexual innuendo from a mile away and pick up on unintended racial slurs, you might have a future in headline writing and proofreading. The people at these newspapers and websites clearly didn’t possess that necessary ability and let these terrible (and sometimes terribly awesome) headlines slip through the cracks. These headline mistakes probably got someone in trouble, but at least we can all learn from or at least laugh at them.

  1. Chink in the Armor

    This headline about Knicks star Jeremy Lin was almost as big of a story as Lin's rise to fame. Anthony Federico, an ESPN editor at the time, wrote and posted the now-infamous headline at 2:30 a.m. before heading out for the night. It was taken down from the site within 35 minutes because of its inappropriate use of the Chinese racial slur, chink. Federico, who had been at ESPN since 2006, was fired the day after the incident. He has apologized, saying that it was just a mistake and he hadn't considered the connotation of the word that appears in the common phrase.


  2. Gook double earns victory

    You might think that the Lin headline fiasco would make ESPN.com editors hyper-sensitive to any ethnic slurs, especially against Asians. Apparently that wasn't the case, because just a week after the Lin debacle, the headline "Gook double earns victory" appeared on the soccer home page. The soccer player the title refers to is Lee Dong-Gook, a member of the South Korea national team. Considering Dong-Gook is his first name, in the style of many Asian countries, and that even if the headline writer didn't understand that, he should've written Dong-Gook rather than just Gook, this mistake is as offensive as the Lin blooper. Gook is a well-known derogatory term for Koreans and East Asians. The headline has since been changed to "Lee double earns victory."


  3. Reader fingers murder suspect

    Commuters in D.C. were treated to a weird mental image when they picked up their free copy of The Examiner in early December 2011. On first read, it sounds like a reader and a killer were having a romantic tryst, which definitely should not make front-page news. The real meaning is more significant, with a reader helping police get a new lead in a cold case — more newsworthy, but not nearly as scandalous a headline. Those copy editors probably felt a little sheepish after they realized the meaning they had conveyed. Can we all just agree that "fingers" is no longer an appropriate verb to use for anything that you want to be taken seriously?


  4. Tired Gay succumbs to Dix in 200 meters

    You can hardly blame the copy editor for going with this headline. When you get a chance like this to make a perfectly innocent, informative title so dirty, you take it. The story refers to runners Walter Dix and Tyson Gay and the outcome of a race. They just happen to have unfortunate last names to be put together. If Reuters got any complaints about this one, I'm sure they just told the reader to get his mind out of the gutter and then giggled when they got off the phone.


  5. French B.O. up 9%

    The French are getting stinkier? Is that even possible? Most people associate the abbreviation B.O. with body odor, though it apparently stands for box office in some circles. It's unclear exactly why it needed to be shortened since it's on the Internet and there is plenty of space, so we can only assume that some headline writer had a personal beef (or maybe boeuf) with the French.


  6. Pow wow wow yippee yo yippy yay

    The Union Weekly, a student newspaper at California State University, Long Beach, ran this headline on top of a review of a campus event involving American Indians. The event was called a Pow Wow, which may have prompted the headline writer to come up with this offensive line, but there's no justifying it. Not only is it offensive, basically mocking the way Native Americans sound, but it's bad writing — you have no idea what the story is about by reading the headline. It doesn't help that the article itself bashed the American Indian culture, as well. The newspaper apologized, and we wouldn't be surprised if someone's name stopped appearing in the masthead after this.


  7. After sex sting, AP governor Tiwari ejects prematurely

    We'll cut this web editor a break since this headline is from The Times of India and his first language may not be English, but we kind of doubt he didn't know exactly what he was doing. He at least got a quick lesson in our language's sexual phrases after posting this gem of a headline. The story discusses a governor who was stepping down after being caught on film in the company of three women. Many readers blasted the paper for providing the serious news with such a sleazy, cheap-shot headline, but it's not clear if it cost anyone their jobs.


  8. Politics in spades: why the Obama veg patch matters

    This headline, and others involving Obama and the word spade, might seem innocuous to the younger generation, but many older people might still recognize spade as a derogatory name for an African American. The term originated in the early 20th century and isn't used much today, but it's understandable that it could be incredibly offensive to put a racial slur as the title of a story about the U.S. president. Copy editors probably need to have a list handy of every racist term out there just to be safe.


  9. Missippi's literacy program shows improvement

    Yes, you read that right. The literacy program in "Missippi" is improving. It apparently hasn't made its way to the newspapers there yet, though. This mistake wouldn't be so awful if it weren't for the glaring irony of it — and the fact that we all learned how to spell Mississippi in the second grade. This headline writer and everyone who proofread this paper should be temporarily suspended until they complete an elementary spelling class.


  10. headline headghgh

    This mistake by the Times & Citizen in the United Kingdom isn't just a matter of missing the connotation of a word. This is full-blown carelessness. It's happened to papers all over the world: the dreaded filler headline that gets looked over and makes it into the published version. It's rare that it happens on the main headline of the front page, though, as it does in this case. The paper blamed a new production method they and other British newspapers were using, but it's still hard to pass the buck on something so glaring as a 50-size font, placeholder head on the front page.

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One Comment

  • Francesco

    Tired Gay succumbs to Dix in 200 meters & Pow wow wow yippee yo yippy yay were both pretty funny.

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