Ford Inspired One of the Most Famous Heds in Newspaper History

By: E&P Staff

Former President Gerald R. Ford, who died Tuesday, may be remembered by many as the man who helped heal the nation after Wategate — or further inflamed matters by pardoning Richard M. Nixon. Others may recall the Chevy Chase parodies. But some in the newspaper industry will quickly recall that he sparked one of the most famous newspaper headlines ever: FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.

In fact, that one sharp stinging headline on Oct. 30, 1975, was all it took to turn New York Daily News Managing Editor William Brink into an icon of American journalism.

The previous day, President Ford had refused to grant federal aid for a bailout of New York City’s fiscal crisis. Brink knew the Manhattan daily’s front page the next day had to pack a serious punch. On sheets of newsprint paper, Brink wrote, in bold letters, “DROP DEAD,” and above it, “FORD TO CITY.”

That day, it was likely viewed as another great hed written on deadline. But it went on to become one of the most memorable headlines in newspaper history.

In contrast, the corresponding hed in The New York Times that day was: “FORD, CASTIGATING CITY, ASSERTS HE’D VETO FUND GUARANTEE; OFFERS BANKRUPTCY BILL.”

Ford later admitted that the scathing DROP DEAD hed ? and the ensuing negative coverage by the Daily News and other New York newspapers ? helped make him lose New York State in his 1976 race against Jimmy Carter, as well as the presidency. Ironically, the Daily News endorsed Ford that year.

Before he joined the Daily News staff, Brink was a reporter and copy editor for The Indianapolis Star and also worked as a rewrite man for United Press. He later covered the Kennedy-Nixon presidential race for Newsweek, where he earned a promotion to senior editor.

Brink joined the Daily News in 1970 as assistant managing editor, and served as managing editor from 1974 until his retirement in 1981. He died of congestive heart failure at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Conn., last year.

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