Write Your Own Headline For 'Balloon Boy' Story

Headlines about the recent balloon hoax dominated television and print over the past week. The Columbia Journalism Review's Megan Garber talks about some of the headlines she imagined various outlets would use to cover the balloon hoax story.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

In the satirical take on the balloon boy saga that swept the nation a week ago, journalist Megan Garber imagined how some very different magazines might have headlined their stories on the Heene hoax. Esquire, for example, "Balloons We Love: 10 of the Hottest Blowups in the Business." Or Entertainment Weekly: "The Heene Family and Their Book Deal - a sneak peak inside 'If We Did It.'"

So we want your ideas about how a specific magazine or newspaper or broadcast outlet might headline the balloon boy story. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site, that's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Megan Garber is a staff writer at the Columbia Journalism Review, where her article appeared last Friday and joins us from our bureau in New York.

Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Ms. MEGAN GARBER (Staff Writer, Columbia Journalism Review): Glad to be here.

CONAN: And we're going to go right to our own jugular. If you've ever pretended your child was trapped down a well or abused by aliens in an effort to get attention, give us a call: 800-989-8255.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's something that's pretty easy to do.

Megan, these headlines you wrote - I love your Cosmopolitan - "Balloons in Bed." These are ways to poke fun at various specific media outlets.

Ms. GARBER: They are, mm-hmm. We wanted - just generally to have a little bit of fun with this story. And, you know, these magazines haven't exactly done particular things about balloon boy, but we wanted to basically say - you know, have a little fun with the media in general. So this is our way to do it. And we thought that - you know, especially with some of these magazines of ideas, the Economists and Newsweek, and all of that, it would be especially fun to poke a little fun at them.

CONAN: And some of these are a little longer but really, really delicious. The Economist, the one I love in particular - "The Power of Inflation: A Dryly Droll and Acerbically Authoritative Account of the Economics of U.S. Ballooning - an account, if we may be so bold, which one had better read whilst the account remains fresh so that one will not provoke the ridicule of the educated urban elites whom one calls one's friends."

Ms. GARBER: Yes. We had a lot of fun with that one in particular.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And some of these magazines - well, you know, their approach sadly is predictable.

Ms. GARBER: Yes, that's very true, that's very true. And, you know, you get to know these magazines pretty well being a media critic. And we probably won't see these exact headlines, but I wouldn't be too surprise if we did on the other hand.

CONAN: At least on some of them. I don't think we're going to see your Time or Newsweek headlines.

Ms. GARBER: Probably not, probably not.

CONAN: Remind us what they were.

Ms. GARBER: They were - let's see. Time was "What Newsweek Said: Or something on the economy, or culture, or whatever." And Newsweek was "Balloons and Andrew Jackson: Pulitzer winner Jon Meacham, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize, explores the connection between two touchpoints of American democracy."

CONAN: Now we got this email from Eileen(ph) in Beaverton, Oregon. From the AARP magazine, "Ballooning - easy on the knees."

Ms. GARBER: Oh, that's a good one. I like that.

CONAN: That's not too bad.

Ms. GARBER: Very nice.

CONAN: So, again, if you've got some take on a headline that you might expect to see in a particular broadcast, news outlet, newspaper magazine, give us a call at 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org.

You used an interesting expression and I figured that at least some of these came out of some banter in the newsroom.

Ms. GARBER: They did, yes. We were figuring out exactly how to have a little bit of fun with this story. I mean, this is a story that basically took on, sort of, P.T. Barnum level…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: …ridiculousness, and we wanted to poke a little fun. So, this is very much a communal effort here.

CONAN: And so, a whole bunch of people sat around and traded ideas. I wondered, did anybody come up with an idea for the Columbia Journalism Review?

Ms. GARBER: You know, we thought about it, and then thought better of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: But if any of your listeners have ideas, we'd be happy to hear them.

CONAN: Oh, CJR: "How the Media Got It Wrong." Let's see if we can get some callers on the line: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Brianna's(ph) on the line from Norfolk in Virginia.

BRIANNA (Caller): Yeah. I was thinking Parenting magazine - "How to Pull Off Your Own At-Home Balloon Boy Hoax."

CONAN: That's not bad.

BRIANNA: Yeah.

CONAN: It might have been Popular Mechanics, though.

BRIANNA: Oh, yeah. That would be good, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay, Brianna, thanks very much for the call.

How did you stop - start limiting yourself, Megan.

Ms. GARBER: Well, that was actually the hard part. We had a longer list and then cut it down a little bit. So, we tried to focus on, kind of, the main magazines out there.

CONAN: Let's go to Doc(ph), and Doc's with us from Oklahoma City.

DOC (Caller): Yeah. I told you last week about Godzilla.

CONAN: Aha.

DOC: I haven't - I've got a great one that came up. Being from New Rochelle, New York, where the infamous David Berg of MAD Magazine lived, and having been a neighbor - got a lot of inspiration from him. And I'm thinking a picture of a kid hanging out of the base of the balloon with that infamous catchphrase from MAD magazine, "What, Me Worry?"

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's not bad, Alfred E. Neuman's take on the balloon boy hoax. Thanks very much, Doc.

DOC: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Yeah, MAD is almost too easy.

Ms. GARBER: Exactly. Yup.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: There is a really good one. Let's see. Entertainment - well, we said the Entertainment Weekly one. Good Housekeeping - "Mayumi Heene on Family, Life, and Love - being a parent is the ultimate storm."

Ms. GARBER: Yeah, exactly.

CONAN: And then you got to - Gourmet magazine - interestingly said, too soon.

Ms. GARBER: We just couldn't poke fun at it yet. Yeah, that needs a little more time to be laughable.

CONAN: Here's from the New Republic, "Death By Balloon: Betsy McCaughey digs deep into the study just released by Americans for Balloon Safety, and comes to the explosive conclusion that, buried on page 742 of the report, the Obama administration reveals its intent to tether all Americans over the age of 50 to hot-air balloons roughly the size of Rhode Island and float them away to Canada. McCaughey also proves that the 20-foot-wide balloon named in the report is bigger than a 30-foot-wide one, using science."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: I have to say that one is one of my favorite ones. We did have a good time with that one. We felt that that was deserved.

CONAN: This email from Joseph(ph) from Variety, "Heene Weenies Pimp Blimp."

Ms. GARBER: Oh, that's a great one.

CONAN: Yeah. It's pretty good.

Ms. GARBER: Nice.

CONAN: Yeah. Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Marcus(ph), Marcus with us from Rockford, Illinois.

MARCUS (Caller): Yes. The Source magazine would have the headline: "Little White Boy Takes It to A Higher Level - A Much Higher Level."

CONAN: Much higher level. Could've been High Times too.

MARCUS: I suppose. I only read the Source so I wouldn't know.

CONAN: Okay. Well, that's a hip-hop magazine, so…

MARCUS: Yes.

CONAN: …interesting. I wonder, have you decided to try to this approach with some other stories?

Ms. GARBER: You know, we hadn't talked about it yet but we might. It was quite a good time, I have to say, talking through all these ideas. So we very well might.

CONAN: Here's The Huffington Post: "Balloons Shaped Like Breasts - Photos, slideshow, poll."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: That I have to say, that might be my actual personal favorite. I like that one a lot.

CONAN: That's a pretty good one. McSweeney's: If You're Having Trouble Reading This Headline, It's Because We Have Decided to Print Our Current Issue On the Side of A Balloon - Talk about high art, wheeee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

National Review, "Balloons and Socialism: What Americans need to know to keep their tax dollars safe from Pelosi and company."

Ms. GARBER: Exactly. We - something like that was a fitting one for the National Review, and we kind of struggled with whether that should be a National Review or Weekly Standard. But ultimately decided it was National Review one.

CONAN: That's where you got the wheeee attached to it, I guess.

Ms. GARBER: Yes. Exactly.

CONAN: This is Chris(ph), Chris calling us from Charlotte.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi there. Yeah, I'm thinking in Psychology Today, you might see a headline something like "The Balloon that Swelled His Head."

CONAN: Oh, you can work on that. I think it needs a little work, Chris, but I think you've got a good approach there.

CHRIS: Well, we're talking of the father's head.

CONAN: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

CHRIS: Yeah.

Ms. GARBER: Oh, that is good.

CONAN: That is good. All right.

CHRIS: That's a little clever, huh?

CONAN: Yeah, we'll take that.

CHRIS: All right.

Ms. GARBER: Full of hot air.

CONAN: Yeah. Whoa. Helium, I don't think needs to be heated.

Anyway, I like the Reason magazine - and for those aren't familiar, it's the publication of the Cato Institute, the libertarian (unintelligible) place. Reason, The Right To Balloon: If Falcon Heene felt like faking a balloon flight, that's his own damn business." That's - well, that's, I guess, about the most predictable one of all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: US Weekly, "To Balloon And Back: Lady Gaga describes her harrowing battle with balloonorexia - The star reveals: rubber-based products got me where I am today."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: We felt like the term rubber-based products needed to be in there somewhere.

CONAN: And Lady Gaga has to be in there somewhere too.

Ms. GARBER: Exactly. Always.

CONAN: Did - I wonder have you heard from any of these magazines about the parodies?

Ms. GARBER: You know, we actually haven't. We actually haven't. I'm a little disappointed because I would love to hear their reactions.

CONAN: Let's go too…

Ms. GARBER: So feel free to write in.

CONAN: Brandon(ph) joins us from Columbia City in Indiana.

BRANDON (Caller): Hi. Fox News. Every time they do the story on the piece, they should have a little icon on the corner that says, "Floating And Balanced."

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right. Right, Brandon. Thanks very much.

Let's see if we can go to some emails. This is from Roxanne(ph). Rush Limbaugh, "Clinton's Behind Balloon Boy Fiasco." And that's pretty easy.

Joe(ph) in Fox Point, Wisconsin. I saw this on the Web yesterday. "Apple Has Developed a New App for Your iPhone - Just point your phone at any balloon flying overhead and it will tell you if there's a six-year-old boy inside it."

Ms. GARBER: That's a great one. Well done.

CONAN: That's not too bad. There was actually a piece that I saw, I think, in the New York Times, that I swear somebody did the calculation and said the balloon could not possible have lifted a 36-pound boy.

Ms. GARBER: It's true.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to this - excuse me - let's go next to Mike. Mike's in Scottsville in Kentucky.

MIKE (Caller): Yes. So I grew up through Boy Scouts most of my life. And I always thought that Boys' Life magazine should run the article, "Combining Activities for Three Easy Merit Badges: ballooning, knot tying, and lying to the local authorities for national media exposure."

CONAN: There's got to be a Goofus and Gallant in here somewhere.

MIKE: Oh. Well, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much.

MIKE: Okay.

CONAN: Let's see if we get here some more. From Vanity Fair, "Ladies Who Latex: Hollywood's hottest young stars gather for balloon-inspired debauchery at the Waverly Inn, as Graydon Carter beers watches. Inside: a photo essay of the event, shot by Annie Leibovitz in exchange for a $25 Dunkin' Donuts coupon."

Speaking to her unfortunate recent financial difficulties. Vogue, "Balloons in Colors that Pop: How to wear the fall's hottest accessory. Inside: a photo essay of balloon-bearing celebrities shot by Annie Leibovitz in exchange for a $25 Dunkin' Donuts coupon."

You're shameless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Anne(ph). Anne's with us from Virginia Beach.

ANNE (Caller): Hi. Journal of American Medical Association, "New Breakthroughs in Helium Balloon Angioplasty."

CONAN: Not bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANNE: Thanks.

CONAN: That's pretty good, Anne. Thanks very much for the call.

Let's see, what haven't we done here? New York, "Hmm, What Did Gawker say?" And the New Yorker, "Fiddlesticks, What Did Gawker Say?"

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Gawker, well, I think, "Stealing Thunder - Left, Right and Center." Let's see if we can go to Kay(ph). Kay, with us from Austin, Texas.

KAY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

KAY: My idea was Prevention magazine, "How to Have a Flatter Balloon in Just Seven Hours."

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's not bad. I like that. Where did you come up with that, Kay? Is Prevention one of your favorite magazines?

KAY: Well - and they always have an article about a flat stomach. And being in that age group, you know, I'm always like, okay, now, what did they say, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right, Kay. Thanks very much.

KAY: Take care. Bye.

CONAN: And we - just calling TALK OF THE NATION will result in a flatter stomach.

KAY: Oh, thank, God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Megan Garber of the Columbia School of Journalism who's been writing mock headlines about the balloon boy incident a week ago. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Here's an email from Janet(ph) in Las Vegas. From Real Simple magazine, "Recycling Your Hoax Balloon for Whimsical Holiday Decorations." And of course, Megan, you had a Real Simple one.

Ms. GARBER: We did. Let's see, the one that we had was "20 Surprising Uses for Mylar" - and number 12 is use it to build a balloon that will get you so high, that you'll end up getting interviewed by Wolf Blitzer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You have, by the way, seen that little clip that they played on - that Anderson Cooper played on CNN. I think it was last night or the night before. The part of the interview they didn't show where they're doing a warmup to the interview and the father tells young Falcon Heene that he's about to be interviewed by Wolf and the boy says, who the hell is Wolf?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So let's go next to Colleen(ph). Colleen, with us from Savannah.

COLLEEN (Caller): Yes. Hi. I have another Real Simple for you.

CONAN: Okay.

COLLEEN: "Silver, the New Gold - Looking up in fall fashion."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: Oh, that's a good one.

CONAN: That is a good one. Thanks very much, Colleen.

COLLEEN: Thanks. Take care.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to - this is Michael(ph). Michael, with us from Ewing, New Jersey.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hello, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: Very well. Thank you.

MICHAEL: Great show. Great show. All right. Forbes magazine; picture balloon boy hanging off the side, yelling, "Where's My Golden Parachute?"

CONAN: Ha-hah.

Ms. GARBER: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right. That's good.

MICHAEL: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: Bye-bye. This is going to be the subject, I think, of endless also editorial cartoons. The analogy, the first - the bailout analogy is leaping the minds immediately.

Let's go to Charlie(ph). Charlie, with us from Wichita.

CHARLIE (Caller): Yeah. I'm gonna say Mechanics Illustrated, DIY for do it yourself "The DIY Aerial Path to Publicity and Prison."

CONAN: That's I think, the next issue.

CHARLIE: Oh. All right.

CONAN: It could be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHARLIE: Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Charlie. This is going to be the source of unending fun. This from Lalesse(ph). Women's Health magazine, "Winter Ballooning: How to prevent it with new natural diets for the season."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: That's good.

CONAN: That is good. Slate magazine, you write; explainer, "What's Up With Balloons - A charmingly counterintuitive tale."

Ms. GARBER: Exactly. Yeah.

CONAN: That's great. Let's go to Andy(ph). Andy, with us from Stockton, California.

ANDY (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi.

ANDY: I had two points. One, I really wish people would stop saying balloon boy, because really it's not about the poor kid. Try something heinous - play on the father's last name.

CONAN: Oh, right.

ANDY: (unintelligible) Heenes.

Ms. GARBER: Yes.

CONAN: But balloon boy got a certain nice rhythm and, you know?

ANDY: I know. It's so easy, but I did have one for you. Weekly World News: "Balloon Boy, Bat Boy and The Alien Meet for Secret Summit - Details of the cover-up inside."

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Now that's - you have to go some to get that one. That's not bad, Andy.

ANDY: Thank you.

CONAN: And notice it used balloon boy in the title.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But anyway, let's see if we can go - some of these others - have we read all yours?

Ms. GARBER: I think we might have gone through them, yep.

CONAN: That's…

Ms. GARBER: Oh, you know, one more, the New York Review of Books asks whether "…This is The End of Irony - the fate of mirth in a post-balloon boy world."

CONAN: We also missed the Atlantic, "Are Balloons Making Us Stoopid? - Andrew Sullivan on Balloons, Blogging, and the Perils of Hot Air; Corby Krummer on How Falcon Heene's favorite meal — the Tampa Manwich — is taking over the Denver food scene; and Richard Florida's vision for a helium city of the future. Also, visit TheAtlantic.com for an online special: the 100 bravest balloonists of all time. Click through to check out each one — two or three or four times."

Ms. GARBER: Yeah. We couldn't resist having little fun with the Atlantic.

CONAN: And…

Ms. GARBER: And I have to say, I'm a little curious about the helium city of the future, so maybe they'll pursue this.

CONAN: Well, Richard Florida, it depends where it's located.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: That's true.

CONAN: It's location, location, location, and of course, how it's going to be integrated into the World Wide Web and all those good things. Is there any publication that you left out, newspapers, the New York Times, the Daily News, I mean, did you think about those too?

Ms. GARBER: We did. We thought that it would be easier to sort of limit it just to magazines and also just because a lot of these are, like I said, sort of magazines of ideas that like to, you know, think about the broader implications of our culture and stuff. We thought it would be, you know, extra mischievous…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GARBER: …to focus on them.

CONAN: Here's an email from Drew(ph) up on down round NYC - I'm not sure who that is. But anyway, balloon boy headline, "Balloon Boy Tops Bubble Boy, Bath Boy Befuddled." That's for the Weekly World News. I think, people are - that's a new source of popularity there.

Let's see if we can go next to - this is Cathleen(ph). Cathleen, from Akron in Ohio.

CATHLEEN (Caller): Hi. Guidepost magazine, a religious magazine and it would be, "The Miracle of The Balloon Boy - the translocation phenomenon."

CONAN: Maybe the National Catholic Reporter, "Balloon Boy - Anglican Balloon Boy Drifts to Catholic Church?"

(Soundbite of laughter)

CATHLEEN: Could be.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Colleen.

CATHLEEN: Uh-huh.

CONAN: Cathleen, excuse me. And this from Pete(ph) in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. He suggests this headline from the Onion, which of course does fake headlines, "We Couldn't Think of Anything as Dumb as Reality."

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's not bad. Megan Garber, thanks so much for your time today.

Ms. GARBER: Thank you.

CONAN: Megan Garber is a staff writer at the Columbia Journalism Review, where her article appeared last Friday, with us today from our bureau in New York. You can find a link to her piece on our Web site at NPR.org.

Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION, SCIENCE FRIDAY. We'll see you again on Monday. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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