Monday, June 21
Headlines do matter
Curmudgeonly media critics (like some of us at RAD) often point out that a newspaper headline can really shape how a story is perceived. This example from this morning's Washington Post is a classic. First, here is the key paragraph from the story:
[Several police officers responded to a reported carjacking at a gas station] About a mile from the gas station, the officers spotted an older-model gold Lincoln fitting the description near Pennsylvania Avenue and Donnell Drive, police spokeswoman Barbara Hamm said. They chased the vehicle a short distance, to a dead-end street in the 3200 block of Forest Run Drive, where the suspects left the car and fled. The officers pursued them into a wooded area, according to police reports.
Hamm said one officer confronted a suspect, who raised a handgun toward the officer. The officer fired one shot, striking the man in the upper body. The man was transported in critical condition to Southern Maryland Hospital, authorities said.
The second officer chased another man into the woods, authorities said. The man fired a handgun and the officer returned the shot, but police did not know whether the fugitive was hit because he was not apprehended. A third assailant, who was seen at the gas station but not in the car, was also at large, authorities said.
. . .
Other officers who responded yesterday to the gas station -- in a commercial strip that includes liquor stores, fast-food restaurants and apartment buildings -- found the owner of the Lincoln beaten and bloodied. He was taken to a hospital, where authorities said he was treated and released.
The headline: Officers Placed on Leave in Shooting
Now, as I understand it, officers are generally placed on leave after shootings so the police can investigate whether they were justified. This seems on balance a good thing, because the danger posed by (hypothetical) trigger-happy cops would be very high indeed. But these shootings seem totally justified, at least based on the limited information available here. Yet the reader's attention is drawn to the administrative leave by the headline and the first two paragraphs (those I quote above begin with the third paragraph), rather than the underlying circumstances. Under these circumstances, the headline seems, at best, misleading, and, at worst, decpetive.