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What Happened at Slate This Week?

Chad Lorenz talks about running the home page, writing headlines, and his favorite picks from the magazine this week. 

Illustration by Charlie Powell.

As Slate’s news editor, it’s my job to run the home page and help plan our coverage of breaking news. One of the biggest joys—and challenges—of my work is writing home page headlines for my colleagues’ pieces and posts. Sometimes this can be intimidating, because the pieces are so brilliant that they deserve a slice of genius for the headline that hundreds of thousands of readers will see. It’s a lot of (self-generated) pressure. This week I found myself in that situation frequently. Here were my favorites:

Jamelle Bouie tackled the biggest news of the week by writing the best assessment I’ve seen of Hillary Clinton’s White House prospects and how essential her candidacy is to the future of the Democratic Party. It’s called “The Indispensable Hillary Clinton,” and you should check it out.

A piece of news you probably didn’t hear about relates to a troubling story Dahlia Lithwick covered in “This Man Deserves a Pardon,” about the travesty of Michael McAlister’s 29-year imprisonment for a rape no one actually thinks he committed. Lithwick sheds light on a mind-boggling aspect of Virginia’s legal system that could keep McAlister in prison for life, even though he has finished serving his time—again, for a crime he almost certainly did not commit. This piece will leave you shaking your head.

While the most prominent stuff on the home page usually comes from the worlds of politics and culture, it always excites me to have an excellent, riveting science piece that we can give major play. This week that pleasure came in the form of “God’s Chosen Planet,” explaining why creationists really, really hope that we never find life elsewhere in the universe. It’s a look at the deceptively named Discovery Institute, a think tank that promotes intelligent design and pooh-poohs humankind’s relentless search for Earth-like planets and alien life.

Here’s a fascinating bit of history I didn’t know about: Even before women had the right to vote in America, thousands of them ran for office. Rebecca Onion examined this rare group of ambitious ladies and learned how some of them won elections in which only men could vote. One woman running for mayor in 1916 beat her husband!

A piece that got my blood pressure up was Will Saletan’s look at Republicans’ pattern of undermining the foreign policy of Democratic presidents, even when it meant siding with the enemy. It’s not just Obama and today’s GOP-controlled Congress, which has tried to subvert the Iran nuclear talks and international climate change agreements. In the late ’90s, Republicans tried to prevent President Clinton from joining the NATO mission against Yugoslavia. But what’s really galling is that under President George W. Bush, when Democrats staged the slightest resistance or most level-headed critiques of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ideologues like Dick Cheney raised charges of anti-patriotism. Saletan ends the piece with a cutting indictment that you’ll have to read for yourself to appreciate.

On a lighter note, this heart-melting Behold photo essay delivered a delightful surprise to me this week. The editor for Behold, Miriam Krule, sometimes bounces her headline ideas off me, and the headline we came up with for the blog post on Tuesday, about couples who have lasted more than 50 years together, seemed to do the job. The next day, I was looking at the photos again and realized something I’d missed before. (Take a look now and see if you notice it.) We never get to see the couples’ faces in their entirety—and in one case you don’t see the couple at all. But the other details of the photos still telegraph the tender, abiding love between them. This gave me a great idea for a home page headline that readers seemed to gravitate toward: “You Don’t Have to See These Couples’ Faces to Know That They Are Deeply in Love.” Finally, putting all that pressure on myself paid off.