October 13, 2006

Lying Misleading with headlines.

Headlines are powerful. Whether they appear in a newspaper, in a Google listing, or on a TV screen, they color the way people understand a news story. In some cases, a headline might provide the only information about a story that someone has.

One of the easiest ways to mislead with a headline is to say something that's true, but which ignores important additional information. While this method is an excellent propaganda tool when used deliberately, the more usual way it appears is when headline writers uncritically repeat the spin from goverment officials or corporate flacks.

In Thursday's online edition of the LA Times, there's a really good example of this kind of headline.

LA Times deficit headline

The Times mindlessly repeats the party line.

What's wrong with this headline? The deficit is the smallest in four years, isn't it?

Well, yeah. But the significance of that fact changes significantly if you know that there was a large budget surplus just six years ago. And if you know that Dubya's tax cuts and spending spree are the reasons why that surplus turned into the current deficit. So while the headline is true so far as it goes, the headline writer's choice to use a yardstick only four years long lets Dubya's spinmeisters get away with their attempt to make the prez look like a deficit-cutting savior.

It's not like it would have been hard to write a better headline, either. For example, this one from MarketWatch points to the size of the drop in the deficit: US deficit falls to $248 billion: Treasury. And this one from Jamaica's Gleaner newspaper merely indicates that the deficit is falling: US budget gap narrows. (Both of these headlines ignore the question of whether the administration has massaged the deficit figures to make them look better, but we'll ignore that for now.)

Unfortunately the LA Times isn't the only media outlet that's run such a misleading headline on its deficit story. This magpie found similar ones at the Houston Chronicle, CBS News, Boston Globe, UK Guardian, and San Jose Mercury News (to name only a few). If the headline writers at these places don't know better than to repeat propaganda, their editors surely should have.

Posted by Magpie at October 13, 2006 11:12 AM | Media | Technorati links |

Yes BUT -- aren't they leaving the cost of the Iraq war out of the budget? And isn't there another large item that they suddenly discarded last year? You can't trust these liars an inch, and their numbers are the sheerest fakery.

Posted by: Scorpio at October 13, 2006 11:27 AM