headline writers and pundits

Why Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Flopped. That’s an actual headline of an article on Slate. Trump’s War Against ‘the Deep State’ Enters a New Stage. That’s a New York Times headline. And this from Politico: How Bernie’s triumph in New Hampshire exposed his vulnerabilities.

Headline writers and pundits — they’re a major part of the problem. You write a headline stating Kamala Harris is having difficulty raising funds, and readers become hesitant to donate to her. You write a headline saying Cory Booker isn’t connecting with ordinary Americans, and folks who consider themselves ordinary Americans begin to wonder why Booker isn’t connecting with them. You write a headline saying Warren’s campaign has flopped, and some Warren supporters start looking for another candidate. You write a headline referring to ‘the Deep State’ and that legitimizes a conspiracy theory based on Russian disinformation.

Much of the time, people don’t read beyond the headline. Any nuanced discussion or argument gets lost. Cut and paste those headlines into posts on Facebook and Twitter, and the effect is amplified. Promising candidates get prematurely axed, campaigns stumble and fail.

“Maybe change ‘Warren On to Nevada’ to ‘Warren Flopped’.”

Why? Because pundits and headline writers operate on the premise that there MUST be drama in a presidential contest. There MUST be tension and excitement. Anybody in the lead cannot be allowed to gain too much of a lead, because it drains the drama from the contest. There must be turmoil and spectacle, there must be tragedy and sensation. There must be a plucky underdog. There must be an obvious protagonist beset by unexpected problems. There must be a villain. There must be at least one character who experiences a sudden change of fortune. The presidential campaign must follow the Aristotelian notion that the end of the narrative should be both surprising but inevitable.

The public suffers because headline writers and pundits need a narrative. And they need a narrative because a good narrative draws readers and viewers, and readers and viewers generate revenue through advertising. The result is that the public suffers so the mass media can sell shit.

I want to kick all the headline writers and pundits squarely in the balls.

14 thoughts on “headline writers and pundits

    • I’m not even sure who the ‘general public’ is anymore. Certainly, some folks are more aware of the problem, but I’m afraid even those who are aware are still taken in by headlines they want to believe.

      Every day — especially on Facebook — I see people I know to be intelligent repost information they haven’t bothered to verify, based entirely on a headline they agree with.

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  1. _Everything_ is driven by unconstrained capitalism. What we see today is the logical outcome of that fact. I’m not at all religious, but 1 Timothy 6:10 says it all: “For the love of money is the root of all evil”

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    • I want to argue against that, but I don’t have any facts to support a counter-argument. There was a time when it seemed public television was a reliable source of information, but it’s increasingly subject to political intervention.

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      • Same in our country. The persistent attacks by the various conservative governments over the years, and the constant accusations of ‘left wing bias’ (read: actual factual content) along with relentless budget cuts has rendered our main public broadcaster – the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – into a mere eunuch of its former self. The quality of its journalism has plummeted and it’s becoming just as likely to air rubbish as the rest of the field. It’s constantly cowed into providing false balance, and anytime it legitimately criticises a conservative politician of policy, they demand (because they own it) that the story either be provided with ‘balance’ (read: propaganda) or axed. Money buys everything. Enough money and you control the world. That’s where we are – the people with money control the world.

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  2. Agreed. I would add that this artificial drama goes beyond the news about the presidential race to encompass pretty much everything that can be politicized (which is just about everything these days). The organization I work for has a fair number of journalists and I see this every day. Story writing is motivated by mouse clicks and Twitter followers. Deeply reasoned stories and carefully considered headlines? Forget it. Much of this comes from top brass, but the reporters do live in a news cycle bubble that I imagine distorts their outlook.

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    • Story writing is motivated by mouse clicks and Twitter followers.

      That’s it, right there. When compensation is influenced by ‘clicks’ reportage turns into edutainment. It’s obscene.

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  3. Pingback: My Week On Crooks and Liars | Mock Paper Scissors

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