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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

For subs everywhere, the Obama-Osama headline conundrum

For a few hours on Monday, visitors to the Times of India website were greeted by this article on the killing of Osama bin Laden:

A SUB'S WORST NIGHTMARE: Did you do a double take on the headline?

Someone, possibly a reader, alerted the newspaper to the goof-up and the headline was later corrected to read "Bin Laden was found with youngest wife".

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Still on headlines: A few readers must have done a double take when they saw this one in DNA yesterday:


Unlike the ToI sub, the DNA sub who came up with this headline was probably getting a few pats on the back for his clever wordplay.

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As long as we are on the subject of Bin Laden, did you know that the New York Times used to refer to him as "Mr bin Laden" on second reference, as dictated by house style, up until he was shot and his body buried at sea? Slate contributor Stayton Bonner, who explains in his piece titled "Goodbye, Mr Terrorist" how the NYT decided to strip Osama bin Laden of his honorific, says that according to the Times, dropping his title was a last-minute decision of minor importance, made just before going to press. "But," writes Bonner, "the decision does seem to imply some form of moral judgment."

Bonner continues:

Bin Laden is certainly a historical figure — defined as someone who will be talked about for decades — so he would have gotten the one-name treatment at some point either way. But why now? If George H.W. Bush died tomorrow, he would undoubtedly be referred to as "Mr. Bush." Idi Amin was sent off as "Mr. Amin," and Joseph Stalin was "Mr. Stalin." The Times' decision to forgo any transition period and jump straight to "bin Laden" indicates it had no fears about offending readers by shortening his name.

As such, Bin Laden joins a select crew of name-shortened Times evil-doers. Adolf Hitler was called "Hitler" even while still alive. The same went for fellow Nazis like Erwin Rommel. [Cambodian dictator] Pol Pot went without a courtesy title in his 1998 obituary.

Well, we have certainly learnt something here about house style, haven't we?
  • Thanks to Commitscion Padmini Nandy Mazumder (Class of 2011) for this tip-off.

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One last item: Who are the SEALs who took out Osama? Slate provides a glimpse into this top secret force: "No bark, all bite".

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