|February 13, 2019|
The Story Behind the Instant Classic "Bezos Exposes Pecker" Headline
|In the tabloid tradition, a good headline must do three things: it must communicate the news; it must commit some act of wordplay; and it must trigger a certain popping of the eyes in its reader, ideally accompanied by some kind of involuntary subverbal response---a squawk, a snort, a guffaw, a gasp. On Thursday, just minutes after Jeff Bezos revealed that American Media, Inc., had threatened to publish explicit photographs of him unless he acquiesced to certain demands, tabloid-headline excellence was achieved, when HuffPost declared, on its home page, "Bezos Exposes Pecker." "Pecker," of course, referred to David Pecker, the chairman and C.E.O. of A.M.I.---the same Pecker who, during the 2016 Presidential election, facilitated a payment to a woman who had a story to tell about an affair with Donald Trump. "What a day," HuffPost's editor-in-chief, Lydia Polgreen, tweeted, soon after the headline appeared, along with a screen shot of the home page.|
The headline was the work of Hayley Miller, a HuffPost reporter in New York whose workday had already ended when the Bezos news came out. She was on the subway, heading home, her phone running out of battery and her reception going in and out between stations, when one of HuffPost's employee Slack channels broke out in a headline brainstorm. "Basically, whenever there's an opportunity for something super punny like that, our whole newsroom is on Slack throwing out puns," Miller explained on Friday. The idea for "Bezos Exposes Pecker" came to her quickly, but she hesitated before sharing it. On one hand, she said, "I was just, like, Oh, my gosh, this is gold---got to do this." On the other hand, she considered, "Do I want to bother my colleagues with another dick pun?" In the end, she went for it. "Trusted my gut, I guess," she said.
Whitney Snyder, a HuffPost deputy editor, who is often involved in home-page decisions, explained that this wasn't the first time the Web site's Slack channels had been peppered with Pecker puns. "We did have a bit of a rehearsal in August," he said, referring to the day that Pecker's immunity deal with federal prosecutors was reported. "We ran a headline that was 'Report: Trump Loses Pecker.' " Often, though, HuffPost has found that wordplay headlines deployed too early can confuse and turn off readers. "On the Internet, when you're splashing something that just actually happened, your first job is to just scream the news at the top of your lungs," he said. But Miller's headline on Thursday was "that rare one that works truly from the second the news breaks."
Both Miller and Snyder shrugged off the fact that the New York Post---a tabloid famous for its headlines---ran "Bezos Exposes Pecker" as the headline on its Friday front page. They were willing to accept that great minds had arrived at the same idea simultaneously, like Newton and Leibniz. "I think anyone in that business is brainstorming headlines with the word 'Pecker,' " Snyder said.