News & Publishing

Headlines always fall short

The New York Times published a bad headline.

In the newspaper’s defense, headline writing is sometimes problematic. At the 12th hour, before the presses roll, when you’re tasked with finite space, painfully few characters and a need to quote a President’s national address, this stuff happens.

The headline was misleading as it read, but there was a lack of space to lay out the “backgrounder” context that puritanical media critics wanted. They wanted a headline that called the President a “racist.”

They wanted the headline to scream: He said this stuff, but of course he doesn’t really mean it. 

They wanted the headline to tell the full story. Headlines never do.

And, of course, this particular headline was never going to meet that expectation. It was never going to say, “Today, the President spoke insincerely about racism and gun culture.”

It was never going to say that a.) Because that’s a full sentence. b.) It’s editorializing in what is intended to be a straight news piece.

Critics, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, “The media is biased!” And then, at the same time, expect us to be biased, to make a qualification or judgment — and blatantly, on the front page, above the fold.

Certain members of the media (looking at you, Joan Walsh) piled on and stoked the embers of a digital subscription revolt against the Times. Never mind that 2,000 newspapers have shuttered in just a few years. Never mind that 95% of the time, The New York Times masthead somehow, incredibly, produces important deep-diving work that smaller papers cannot, because they lack the resources.

Never mind all the other good work by staff not tasked with political coverage. Never mind that many of them are trying to decide tonight whether they should pay their rent or buy groceries this month.

Never mind that every day is a mental, physical and spiritual succubus on journalists trying to cover this Administration.

This anger against The New York Times is misplaced. It’s bubbling up because of a President, who is never held to account for his words, his policies, his opacity and gaslighting, his indecency, and his criminal conduct. Of course, the President was insincere when he read his scripted statement. His uncomfortable body language. The sniffing. The stumbling over the words. The legacy of racist, violent rhetoric, archived and freely searchable on the Internet. The predictable 180-degree spin on Twitter the very next day.

Does The New York Times need to spell it all out for the American people in a pithy 15-character headline?

Are we that daft? ~ G.A. Peck

Here’s what The New York Times had to say about it:

News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy

Robert Mueller Speaks

Caught off guard by this presser today, but here are some of the things we’ll be talking about in newsrooms in the aftermath:

Quick takeaways:

• Right on time. No dramatic delay. All business – true to character.

• Investigation is formally closed. Mueller has resigned as the Special Counsel.

• Wants the report to speak for itself. (How many Americans have actually read it?)

• Stressed conclusions: Russian operatives launched a concerted, multipronged attack on the American election and election systems. They hacked computers, including voter registration systems in several States (see: Florida, where they had notable success) and the DNC’s email system, where they obtained, weaponized and disseminated damaging information on a Presidential candidate.

• Another conclusion: Posing as patriotic Americans on social media channels, Russians created a highly effective disinformation campaign that expressly seeded resentment and pitted Americans against Americans.

• The Special Counsel’s investigation was legally instated, because it was vital to the nation that we understood these attempts to politically destabilize the country, manipulate American voters and exert control over public/foreign policy.

• The investigation did not find the President of the United States “guilty” of criminal conspiracy/obstruction, NOT because there was no evidence to support that allegation but because the Special Counsel and the Department of Justice’s hands were tied in a long-standing rule that allows for the investigation of a sitting President but absolutely prohibits the criminal prosecution of a sitting President (while in Office). The Department of Justice protocol also requires that a President be removed from Office not by way of the Department of Justice alone, but through an Act of Congress. The Special Counsel, therefore, provided the findings of the report and entrusted members of Congress to digest it and make the determination if Impeachment of the President is warranted.

• Mueller credited his new boss, AG Barr, for making the majority of the report public. He stated that he has not been encouraged nor prohibited from providing public or Congressional testimony by anyone, including AG Barr.

• If he is called to testify before Congress, he will stay within the content of the report. “The report is my testimony,” he said.

• He thanked the members of his team – the attorneys, the staff, the FBI – for their work. He said they are “of the highest integrity.”

• Robert Mueller’s last words to the American people as his job comes to an end: Foreign agents attempted to fuck with (paraphrasing) your Nation. They came for you. They came at you. And they’re going to do it again. “[This] deserves the attention of every American,” he concluded.

News & Publishing

The Journalist and the President: I’ve Called with Bad News

I just listened to the phone call between Bob Woodward and President Donald J. Trump.
A few takeaways:
Woodward cites meeting with WH personnel outside of their offices, on the low down. He has tapes of those conversations (though protects source identities). This is the most whistle-blowy staff I’ve ever seen.
How quickly the President throws his team (including K. Conway, and Raj Shah) under the bus — in real time — and then how effortlessly she passes blame to official WH comms team. Also: Conway had lunch with Woodward to discuss book! Who would sign off on that?
Final thought. Woodward’s not perfect. He can sometimes err on the side of doubt-benefit when intention is otherwise obvious. But he’s pretty close to textbook on sourcing and supporting documentation. My guess is that the book’s narrative will feel like a tabloid read, because it’s a tabloid Presidency.
Here’s the audio, thanks to the Washington Post:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/09/04/transcript-phone-call-between-president-trump-journalist-bob-woodward/?utm_term=.865bfb1b0cef