James Taranto

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James Taranto
Born (1966-01-06) January 6, 1966 (age 52)
OccupationJournalist, columnist, editor

James Taranto (born January 6, 1966) is an American journalist. He is editorial features editor for The Wall Street Journal, in charge of the newspaper's op-ed pages, both print and digital.[1] He was formerly editor of its online editorial page OpinionJournal.com.[2] He joined the newspaper's editorial board in 2007.[3]

Taranto is perhaps best known for his daily online column Best of the Web Today, which typically included political, social, and media commentary in the form of conventional opinion writing as well as puns and other forms of wordplay and other recurring themes on news stories crowdsourced from readers. His final "Best of the Web Today" column was published on January 3, 2017, after he became editorial features editor.[1]

Before joining the Wall Street Journal in 1996, Taranto spent five years as an editor at City Journal. He has also worked for the Heritage Foundation and Reason magazine.[3] He pursued a degree in journalism at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) but "never bothered to graduate" after "conflict with teachers and professors".[4]

Rooster incident[edit]

While attending CSUN, Taranto worked as news editor and also as one of two opinion page editors for the Daily Sundial student newspaper. On March 5, 1987, Taranto published an opinion piece criticizing a controversy at the University of California, Los Angeles, in which the editor of the Daily Bruin student newspaper was suspended after the paper published a comic strip depicting a rooster admitted to the university via affirmative action. Accompanying Taranto's column was a reprint of the rooster cartoon. Journalism professor and Daily Sundial publisher Cynthia Rawitch suspended Taranto for two weeks without pay. Acting on Taranto's behalf, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California filed suit against Rawitch and other members of the CSUN journalism school. The suit was settled before trial on terms favorable to Taranto and the ACLU.[5][6]

Best of the Web Today[edit]

Under Taranto, Best of the Web Today was a column published weekday afternoons on WSJ.com. It began as an anonymous web column collecting interesting links. (The title and the use of the editorial "we" come from that era.) Within a year it became a bylined column with commentary as well as links.[7] Many of the items came from suggestions by readers, and each column ends with thanks to those who contributed to it. In his final column, Taranto announced that the Best of the Web Today feature would return with another editorial writer taking the reins.

Recurring categories[edit]

In some instances, Taranto included ad hoc headline rewrites for humorous effect. More often, news and opinion stories were placed within various recurring categories, typically based on the headline of the story. The placement of stories within these categories often implied a particular editorial viewpoint or perspective. Some of the most common recurring categories were:

  • "Questions Nobody Is Asking" – Headlines posed as questions. Example: "'Can Bird Poop Crack a Windshield?' – headline, Wired.com, Sept. 16".[8]
  • "Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking" – Headlines framed as responses to questions.
  • "Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control" – Headlines containing hyperbole or exaggeration, in reference to the headline of a June 22, 2008 news story[9] published by the Associated Press. It was first used on June 23, 2008.[10]
  • "Too Much Information" – Lists headlines containing perceived double entendre or other sexual innuendo.
  • "Two [X] in One" – Highlighted a perceived internal contradiction within the statements or positions of an organization or an individual, generally a well-known publication or an individual journalist.
  • "News of the Tautological" – Headlines containing tautological statements, such as: "Manhunt Ends After Suspect Caught."
  • "News You Can Use" – Headlines with a peculiar or awkward statement of fact. Example: "'Smell Like a Senior Citizen' – headline, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 18".[8]
  • "Bottom Stories of the Day" – Headlines containing perceived stories of insignificance. Items are often listed in this category to be dismissive of particular individuals and organizations. Occasionally, the headlines overtly reference or imply matters relating to posteriors.[11][12][13]
  • "Breaking news from [YEAR X]" – Headlines that could be from a different era.
  • "With DNC in Mind, City Bans Carrying Urine, Feces" – Headlines referencing either actual body waste or via plays on words, in reference to the headline of an August 4, 2008 news story[14] published by the Rocky Mountain News. Example: "'Another Kind of Leak and Coverup Near the Watergate' – headline, Washington Post, July 2."[15]
  • "The Lonely Lives of Scientists" – Headlines containing unintentional risque double entendres involving scientists, such as "Scientists Recreate the Big Bang". The joke is also expanded to other professions, such as "The Lonely Lives of Taxi Drivers".
  • "What Would We Do Without Experts?" - Headlines of stories about "experts" stating obvious conclusions, or sometimes, being proven wrong, such as “The Experts Were Wrong About the Best Places for Better and Cheaper Health Care”.
  • "Worst Appeals to Authority" - Headlines of stories about a public figure of checkered or dubious reputation asserting support for something or someone, such as "Mike Tyson Defends Trump".
  • "So Much for the War on Drugs" - Headlines of stories, usually unrelated to drugs, that utilize in a non-drug context slang terms for various drugs, such as "XXX Takes a Hit" or "YYY Deals Blow" (i.e., slang terms for inhaling marijuana and selling cocaine).
  • "Out on a Limb" – Headlines stating the obvious or including caveats covering all possible outcomes.
  • "Hey, Kids! What Time Is It?" – Headlines stating it is time for some action.
  • "Metaphor Alert" – Writing perceived to include excessive use of mixed metaphors.
  • "We Blame Global Warming" – Headlines using words related to temperature but not connected to climate. The presumable implication of this category is that the range of events connected to global warming or climate change is overly expansive. Example: "'In Early Obama White House, Female Staffers Felt Frozen Out' – headline, Washington Post, Sept. 20".[16]
  • "We Blame George W. Bush" – Headlines that assign blame. This is a play on the perceived tendency for many of his detractors to lay the blame for pretty much anything on President George W. Bush. Example: "'Blame It on Calvin & Luther' – headline, The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 14".[17]
  • "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead." – For headlines that state that something that had obviously not changed has not, in fact, changed, based on a catchphrase from Saturday Night Live. Example: "'After Fleeting Supreme Court Victory, Obama Remains the Amateur' – headline, FoxNews.com, July 2".[15]
  • "I Have the Hat" or "I Have the Hat to This Day. I Have the Hat." – Headlines related to John Kerry, in reference to this quotation from Kerry: "They gave me a hat... I have the hat to this day... I have the hat."[18]
  • "Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate" – Highlights significant corrections published in newspapers that essentially invalidate the whole story.
  • "Someone Set Up Us the Bomb" – A reference to the internet meme All your base are belong to us. Used for poorly written headlines that border on incomprehensible.
  • "Homer Nods" – Acknowledgment of errors and corrections in previous columns.
  • "Fox Butterfield, Is That You?" – Named after Fox Butterfield, journalistic bias that sees contradiction where others might see correlation, or interprets causal relationships as "paradoxes." Example, "More Inmates, Despite Drop In Crime."
  • "An unidentified man...." to refer to Martin O'Malley, a candidate for the 2016 Presidential nomination so little covered that most voters could not name him.[19]

Recurring criticisms[edit]

Taranto used several public figures and organizations for regular criticism and lampooning, often through running gags. Notable examples include:

  • Secretary of State and former Senator John Kerry – Often described as "the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat who by the way served in Vietnam." This was sometimes followed by the number of days since Kerry promised to release his medical records, driving home the point that this was never done.
  • Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy – Segments in which he was the subject (or tangentially related) are usually ended with the gag non sequitur "Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment."
  • Economist and columnist Paul Krugman – Always introduced as a "former Enron adviser", in reference to Krugman's tenure on the board of the Enron Corporation shortly before it collapsed in scandal
  • Liberal pundit E. J. Dionne – Ascribed with the nickname "Baghdad Bob".
  • New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman – Described as "The Worst Writer in the English Language"; a "Friedman Award" was given to those with what is deemed comparably bad writing.
  • PLO Terrorist and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat – Segments which mentioned him (in relation to non-peaceful activities) contained the non sequitur "Arafat won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994." In a corollary, Taranto makes a mockery of media terms such as "critical condition" when he references the 11 November 2004 death with "Yasser Arafat who is in stable condition after dying in a Paris hospital."
  • Occupy Wall Street and related movements – Denoted as "Obamavilles", a reference to the "Hoovervilles" of the Great Depression.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson – Johnson was mentioned in a frequently referenced scene and quote from the film Forrest Gump, in which a Vietnam War protestor assaults a woman and then apologizes with the line "Things got a little out of hand. It's just this war and that lying son of a bitch Johnson!" The quote was used to lampoon Johnson himself, or more usually any individual that blames a public figure or crisis for a mistake or poor judgment. Another quote often attributed to Johnson himself, "If I've lost [Walter] Cronkite, I've lost Middle America", was used by Taranto to mock instances of liberal politicians receiving disapproval from members of the mainstream media.
  • vox.com—always described as a "young adult website."

In similar fashion, Taranto also regularly mocked and deconstructed the reporting of other journalistic organizations including The New York Times (a frequent victim of "Two Papers in One!"), The Huffington Post (always intentionally spoonerized as "The Puffington Host"), Media Matters for America (called "Media Mutters"), WorldNetDaily ("World Nut Daily"), Reuters and the Associated Press.


Taranto commented occasionally on topics of special interest to him such as the Roe effect.[20] He has also coined "The Taranto Principle", which asserts that liberal media bias leads to less thorough vetting of liberal politicians, which can be a disadvantage in general elections, as demonstrated so vividly in 2016.[21]

Aurora mass shooting controversy[edit]

On July 25, 2012, Taranto sparked outrage online by posting the following comment to his Twitter account, in reference to the victims and survivors of the July 2012 Aurora, Colorado mass shooting: "I hope the girls whose boyfriends died to save them were worthy of the sacrifice".[22][23]

Later that day, Taranto issued a mea culpa in his Best of the Web Today entry:

We intended this to be thought-provoking, but to judge by the response, very few people received it that way. The vast majority found it offensive and insulting. This column has often argued that a failure of public communication is the fault of the public communicator, and that's certainly true in this case. What follows is an attempt to answer for this failure with a circumspect accounting of our thoughts.

What makes the stories of Jansen Young, Samantha Yowler and Amanda Lindgren especially poignant is that their boyfriends' dying acts simultaneously dealt them an unfathomable loss and gave them an invaluable gift – a gift of life. Their loss is all the more profound because the gift was one of love as well. In instinctively making the ultimate sacrifice, each of these men proved the depth of his devotion. They passed a test to which most men, thankfully, are never put – and then they were gone.

These three women owe their lives to their men. That debt can never be repaid in kind, because life is for the living and cannot be returned to the dead. The closest they can come to redeeming it is to use the gift of their survival well – to live good, full, happy lives.

People live on after death in the memories of those who loved them. Sometimes when this columnist does something we consider worthwhile, our thoughts turn to our father, who died four years ago: "Dad would be proud." That is our hope for Young, Yowler and Lindgren: that in the years to come, each of them will have many opportunities to reflect that Jon or Matt or Alex would be proud of her.[24]


  1. ^ a b Finale, James Taranto, WSJ, January 3, 2017
  2. ^ James Taranto: Why Is This Man HAHAHA-ing?, Eric Randall, The Atlantic, July 6, 2012
  3. ^ a b James Taranto WSJ Bio, James Taranto, WSJ, August 23, 2011
  4. ^ Disparate But Not Serious, James Taranto, WSJ, May 18, 2007
  5. ^ The Rooster Papers. A student's journalistic feathers are plucked., Mike Moore, The Quill (Society of Professional Journalists), September 1988
  6. ^ Taranto, James (24 May 2013), "See You in the Funny Papers", The Wall Street Journal.
  7. ^ 'The Shoulders of Giants', WSJ.com, July 26, 2012 (see “Why 'We'”)
  8. ^ a b 'We Were Impressed', James Taranto, WSJ.com, September 19, 2011
  9. ^ Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control, Alan Fram and Eileen Putman, Associated Press, June 22, 2008
  10. ^ 'Did I Mention He's Black?', June 23, 2008
  11. ^ https://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323494504578340381791033510
  12. ^ https://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324240804578416721624260026
  13. ^ https://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324866904578513160997321662
  14. ^ With DNC in mind, city bans carrying urine, feces, Daniel J. Chacon, Rocky Mountain News, August 4, 2008
  15. ^ a b 'Don't Worry, It's Binding', James Taranto, WSJ.com, July 2, 2012
  16. ^ Public Frenemy No. 1, James Taranto, WSJ.com, September 20, 2011
  17. ^ Why They Stood and Cheered , James Taranto, WSJ.com, January 17, 2012
  18. ^ Kerry Pressing Swift Boat Case Long After Loss, Kate Zernike, New York Times, May 28, 2006
  19. ^ No-Trump Bid, James Taranto, WSJ.com, January 19, 2016
  20. ^ The Roe Effect: The right to abortion has diminished the number of Democratic voters, James Taranto, WSJ, July 6, 2005
  21. ^ The Taranto Principle Vindicated Again Archived 2012-05-10 at the Wayback Machine., R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., The American Spectator, May 20, 2010
  22. ^ http://observer.com/2012/07/wsj-columnist-asks-if-women-saved-by-boyfriends-in-aurora-theater-shooting-were-worth-it/
  23. ^ http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/world/james-tarantos-batman-sacrifice-tweet-controversy/story-fnddckzi-1226435016340
  24. ^ 'Heroes of Aurora', James Taranto, WSJ.com, July 25, 2012

External links[edit]