What’s in a headline? In this day and age, a lot. Internet, smart phones, Twitter, Facebook- all of these world-changing advances have also left us with a shortened attention span. Web magazines and iPads have begun to replace the traditional forms of print media. For many, the headline of a story and perhaps the first paragraph is all they will read. “Headline readers” rarely dig into the meat of an article, let alone take any time to investigate the claims made in the body of the text itself. Journalists and opinion writers struggle with this phenomenon. A headline should grab a reader’s attention, but should it do so dishonestly?
A friend who despises the “social conservatives” in the GOP primary race sent me a blog post recently. The title – “Three GOP Candidates Sign Pledge to Investigate LGBT Community” . How alarming! My friend was making the point that social conservatives are crazy, and here is a blog that has revealed the true depth of their depravity! It was certainly a disturbing headline, but my citizen journalist brain knew better than to trust that. I read the entire post. I wanted proof. Here it is, beginning to end:
Get ready for another round of McCarthyism. Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum have all signed a pledge to form a commission to investigate the LGBT community if elected President.
This pledge was created by the National Organization For Marriage, and they have a history of extreme views against homosexuals and anyone who votes to extend marriage rights to them.
The pledge reads as follows.
I, [candidate name], pledge to the American people that if elected President, I will:
[...] establish a presidential commission on religious liberty to investigate and document reports of Americans who have been harassed or threatened for exercising key civil rights to organize, to speak, to donate or to vote for marriage and to propose new protections, if needed.
In other words, the extreme right wing is going to persecute homosexuals on a whole new level if they have power after the 2012 Election. Homosexuals and supporters of marriage equality will be intimidated, interrogated, and stripped of their right to speak freely. The religious right wing has been allowed to push their un-American and unconstitutional agenda for far too long. Americans must push back. If we continue to do nothing, we could all be persecuted by this fanatical group. -Stephen D. Foster, Jr.
Mr. Foster’s headline was based on quite a few shoddily built bridges. Of course this pledge said nothing about investigating homosexuals, throwing them in jail or stealing away gay people in the middle of the night to imprison and torture. Foster’s first bridge is built on the fact that the pledge was developed by the National Organization for Marriage. His opinion is that they hate homosexuals because they advocate for traditional marriage. So it wouldn’t matter what the wording of the pledge was, simply signing it makes you a hate-monger.
Foster’s second bridge to nowhere connecting homophobia to the candidates comes when he takes the phrase “investigate and document reports of Americans who have been harassed” for their views and opinions to mean homosexuals everywhere will be thrown into dank, dark dungeons never to be heard from again. His language is so alarmist and desperate its laughable. Is this reporting? The pledge does advocate the desire to protect the very first amendment rights Mr. Foster so desperately decries will be stripped from the homosexual community. He may not realize that advocates of traditional marriage have been threatened, had their personal voting and financial records released and have been specifically targeted. When citizens are specifically targeted and threatened for holding opinions, that is a threat to all Americans. NOM feels strongly about protecting that right, and that sentiment should be supported by all Americans, regardless of opinion. If Foster was so terrified homosexuals losing their freedom of speech he might rethink this entire piece.
Regardless of Foster’s personal sentiments and the candidate’s own positions on the issue, the point is that his headline was not only misleading and alarmist, it was false. My bone of contention is not with his opinion but with his false reporting. Personal opinions of gay marriage notwithstanding, the pledge used no strong language, inappropriate terms or hateful rhetoric. Foster “proves” it is hateful simply by saying so. He caps his post with a dire warning: “...we could all be persecuted by this fanatical group“. As a blogger, I find Foster’s dishonest attempt to garner readership despicable. If you are going to report, report the facts as they stand. Give your opinion in the body of the post, of course. However, don’t lead with a headline that sets up a lie, then use your opinion as proof of that lie. Its tacky. Unfortunately, the Stephen Foster’s of this world count on the short attention span of modern Americans. They count on the hope that most readers won’t read beyond the headline, or bother to investigate arbitrary claims made by opinion bloggers.