The Power of a Misleading Headline
By Nathan Altshuler
It’s somewhere around 11:00 PM in Israel, time for a quick shower, even quicker dinner, and a look at current events. Facebook is a nifty way to catch up on news as I follow and “like” all the major news outlets. So I log in and scroll down through various posts and read some articles.
I then see a New York Times article. The headline read “2 Palestinians Killed Following Stabbing Attack in Jerusalem.” I did not hear about any stabbing attack that had involved 2 Palestinian victims that day so I was surprised. Well I read the article and it turns out that the aforementioned Palestinians who were killed were in fact the perpetrators of that same stabbing attack.
Sadly, I was not surprised anymore. This sort of reporting is commonplace when the coverage involves attacks against Israelis. The perpetrators become the victims.
As a communications student, I spend a lot of time studying the power of media over society. I have studied theories, such as the Political Economy Theory, a theory that suggests that the media is a tool for the elite of society to construct a sort of channel for their ideal hegemonic ideologies. We notice and of course understand that the obvious ideas of the ruling class of society and its effect on the media and the horrendous trend of pressure and the influence of personal opinion and biased reporting in the media. They learned to manipulate the media to preserve their interests and to make sure the ideologies and views they believe in and followed would be spread to the rest of society (Straubhaar & LaRose, 2006). The media as theorized by this theory is a tool of influence over the greater population by what the society defined as the ruling class.
Nowadays the media, in my humble opinion, is itself a “ruling class”. In the age of social networking, we can share articles and stories in matters of seconds simply by skimming a headline and deciding whether it interests us or is something that we feel we can share with our friends. Some do not even read the actual article, but base their shares and comments solely off the headlines. This makes the headlines of articles one of the most important parts of the entire article, as it automatically gives the reader a feel of what the article is about and the information that they will be reading, should they choose to actually read the article. The power in a headline is enormous and simply too vast to even describe in a blog. A headline should be very carefully worded and reviewed before being published; making sure that it presents the article and the story truthfully and properly.
Lately, I have been reading the headlines of newspapers such as The New York Times, The Associated Press, BBC and others that have simply lost all legitimacy when it comes to honest and fair reporting on the Middle Eastern Conflict. As I mentioned before, the media is something that can truly influence the masses. This means that a reporter has the responsibility to report the news in a fair, unbiased, and honest way. I have noticed that the article headlines dealing with the “Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” are almost always written in the most unprofessional and misleading way. Millions of people who simply skim headlines during their lunch break get a completely different picture of what is happening in the Middle East. I am quite concerned simply because the assumptions that the majority of society can make due to reading such misleading headlines creates a very difficult situation for the State of Israel.
I find it absolutely ridiculous and shameful, that when I get home and read the newspapers about the December 23rd stabbing in Jerusalem by two Palestinian terrorist I would read “2 Palestinians Killed Following Stabbing Attack in Jerusalem,” I mean, why did it take pressure from social networking posts and organizations that monitor newspaper reporting to cause a celebrated newspaper to ultimately adjust the headlines. It took strong social pressure to compel a newspaper to be more appropriate and not mislead its readers, is that normal?
To be quite honest and blunt, the change (at least one of them, since then it has been changed yet again) made wasn’t exactly the most straightforward one either. These newspapers and reporters have mastered how to manipulate one or two words in a sentence in order to make even a more truthful and honest headline slightly twisted in a specific way. The placement or choice of specific words can modify the way certain readers perceive an entire article, for example using the words “die” and “killed” in precise context is also using the media to influence a story and cunningly explain it in an unfair way.
Why does it take over three changes to finally create a truthful and clear headline which won’t confuse and manipulate the reader?
How can well-known and established newspapers so effortlessly and easily forget the influence and power in their hands (or merely use that authority to control the minds of their readers)?
How can a common person make a difference as this trend continues?
This is not the only example of misleading headlines published by widely circulated newspapers and unfortunately I do not think it will be the last.
I ask everyone to start using their influence and power as people through emails, social networking profiles, and other forms of media to point out any headline you see and can factually establish as misleading. Newspapers must know that their readers will not stand for misleading headlines and media manipulation.
The meaning of media is literally “the means of mass communication”. We as a society cannot allow the mass communications of our times to turn into a prejudiced and untruthful source of information. It is imperative that we can trust our reporters to provide truthful stories on all conflicts and situations around the world. A newspaper should be called out by the public if caught propagandizing, political campaigning, hoaxing, manipulating stories and more. We can only accomplish this if enough people stand up and make sure to always call attention to misleading and biased headlines along with overall media manipulation until newspaper editors sit their reporters down and re-teach them the ethics of the media. A newspaper headline should paint the victim of an attack as the victim and the perpetrator of an attack as such.
In the 21st century, we are blessed to be able to voice our opinions online and directly to the people and organizations we are trying to reach. I say to everyone, take advantage of your social networking profiles and for once, instead of simply posting a picture from the beach or an instagram of your breakfast, comment on a misleading headline or report. We all have a voice, let it be heard in defense of fair and honest reporting. Is this too much to ask for?
Born and raised in the USA, Nathan Altshuler, served as a lone soldier in the Paratroopers Brigade from 2012-2014, In 2014 he rejoined the IDF as a Pre-Army Program Coordinator for the Ministry of Defense-Social Branch where he assisted in guiding and coordinating preparatory military programs for future lone soldiers from around the world, Nathan currently is studying for his BA at IDC Herzliyah while working part time as a Pre-Army Advisor at the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center.