The Headline is NOT the Story

Headline writers are editorialists.

  • They have an incentive to write their headlines in dramatic fashion -- to get you to buy their publication and to read the story.
  • They may be limited by space or time-constraints, so they can only hit a highlight or a couple aspects of an event.

But their headlines, as well as the 15 second soundbites in the "top of the hour" news reports on your local station, are a small, sensationalized slice of the story. And that's all most people hear.

That means, those who've only heard the headline are IGNORANT.

These "Ignoranti" can be dangerous because they speak to pollsters, lobby for change, and vote, based on biases, generated by merely hearing headlines and soundbites. For example . . .

HEADLINE: Secretary Palpatine Accuses Publisher of Treason

This sounds terrible. What has this publisher done? Read the first paragraph of the piece and you still might be under-informed.

"Julian Ellsberg, publisher of the website, NowYouKnow.com, has posted documents classified by the government, regarding the war with Chaostan. In a statement, Secretary of State Palpatine declared, 'We believe this action will put American lives at risk. This is treason.'"

Mr. Ellsberg should be hung, right? But now read all the way to the end of piece and you learn . . .

  • Secretary Palpatine is the former CEO of a major government contractor.
  • The contractor is responsible for the indiscriminate killing of innocents, undermining the security plan that was sold to the people by the administration.
  • The report may well have been "classified" because the Secretary was trying to minimize embarrassment. [In fact, you'd be surprised by how many "State secrets" are secrets because they contain information that would be demoralizing and politically harmful to a cause or group. "CYA"]

Now, should Mr. Ellsberg be executed?

Here's another example . . .

HEADLINE: Americans Want Their Homes and Cars Inspected
SUB-HEAD: Poll shows support for door-to-door national security and safety checks

It's funny, but the pollsters didn't call YOU, right? This is a case of lies, damned lies, and statistics. Even if you read the story you still might not know that the pollsters presented an ABSTRACT scenario where . . .

  • A terrorist cell was KNOWN to be working from a house in a certain neighborhood
  • That cell had issued a statement indicating their intent to explode a nuclear device planted in that house
  • Intelligence confirmed the existence of both the plan and the house, but authorities didn't know its precise location

And then, they asked, "Would you support the suspension of normal warrant and search procedures in order to determine which house had the nuclear bomb?" 

But remember, there's no house and no plan by terrorists. Still, this scenario was presented to Congressman Jack Bauer who wrote a bill called, "The Finding, Undermining & Capturing Known Terrorists Act," which created and financed 5,000 new agents with the capacity to demand home inspection without a warrant, so long as the agency had reasonable suspicion of a potential threat.

Like most media reportage of polls, the script and sampling methods are NOT provided in the piece. You'd have to read beyond the story -- locate the poll for yourself. Otherwise, you might think that you were in the minority -- an oddball, for clinging to the old-fashioned notion that such invasive search procedures were violations of your Fourth Amendment rights.

You might even be ignorant enough to support Congressman Bauer's bill.

REMEMBER, The Headline is NOT the Story.


Copyright (c) 2011 by Jim Babka. Permission to distribute this blog post for educational purposes is granted, if done with attribution to the author and the Downsize DC Foundation. Permission to use for commercial purposes is denied.

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