Media headlines are like cow pies in a country field. Their purpose is to create a stink that attracts attention. Truth is often a causality.
I’ve felt the sting of phony headlines as an elected official. When I refused to relocate my office to the 14th floor of a new high rise, the headline in the local newspaper announced, “Politician refuses to seek higher office.” The joke was harmless enough, except it misinformed readers and forced me to explain to friends and foes alike that I hadn’t been secretly exploring a run for the governor’s office.
Sadly, some of what the public reads stops with the headlines, which makes print media responsible for the spread of a good deal of misinformation. Journalists can be held accountable for what they print but the writer of headlines has free reign. Sometimes, I’m hard pressed to determine the relationship between the headline and the story. Below are a couple of recent examples.
HILLARY CLINTON: “We didn’t lose a single person in Libya.” Any American who doesn’t know about the deaths in Benghazi, is probably living in a graveyard under a headstone. The headline makes Clinton look like a liar. But the article isn’t about Benghazi. It’s about the upending of Lybia’s tyrant, Momar Khadfi.
COULD HILLARY CLINTON FACE THE SAME FATE AS DAVID PETRAEUS? The operative word is “Could,” which makes an inference but not a statement. Regarding emails, as far as anyone knows, Clinton isn’t accused of sharing national secrets with a lover.
The blame for bad headlines must rest with the public. Reading them for information is like putting shoe polish on your feet instead of shining your shoes. There’s a disconnect that should be obvious to anyone. As final proof, I offer the banner headline from the November 1948 edition of the Chicago Tribune. Dewey Defeats Truman.