Saturday, September 03, 2005

SPIN: News headlines misrepresent facts

A while back, I noted here how headline writers seem to add their own unique media spin. In considering this, it is important to understand that headlines play an incredibly important role in establishing the mind set for the reader. It is also important to bear in mind that many people skim headlines to absorb the general idea, and then move on without reading the full article.

Case in point: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin recently appeared on a radio show and ranted about the lack of help his city was receiving. He directed hard questions, blame and cursing criticism at both the Republican Bush administration in Washington and the Kathleen Blanco, the Democrat governor of Louisiana.

The Chicago Tribune gave the bombastic remarks of Mayor Nagin the full front-page banner headline treatment. However, it referred ONLY to his frustrated “pleas for help” from Washington, with all the criticism that implies. Both the headline and the article failed to mention his frustration with the state leadership. In promoting the entire radio interview on the Internet, AOL said, “In an interview with WWL Radio's Garland Robinette, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin expresses frustration and anger AT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.” (Emphasis added.) Again, no mention of the state government.

And so it was, the story rolled throughout the national media, including national television news as a focused condemnation of the White House.

The persistent facts do not comport with the reporting – not the facts of Mayor Nagin’s comments not the facts of responsibility for various perceived shortcomings in the disaster response efforts. It is clear that much of the lack of preparedness, and insufficient and ineffective initial response, rested considerably with the city administration and the state response. This is not to suggest that there were not problems with the national response, only to note that those problems were shared among all levels of government.

Headlines that add spin to a story are not rare. They are frequent. The disturbing fact is that of the scores of such headlines I have seen, I have yet to find one that spins the story to the toward a more conservative or Republican interpretation. Rather, this latest example serves as yet another subtle indication of the ever present and pernicious bias of the major news industry.

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