Misleading Headlines Will Destroy the World

Robinson Lee, Staff Writer

Tensions are running high, no doubt about that. As the 2020 Presidential elections come closer, people have been further isolated into sections of either liberal progressivism or conservative thought. But the biggest loser of this spiraling staircase of discord is none other than journalistic integrity. While one would expect labeling news outlets as either liberal or conservative would shine some light on the issue of news outlets being openly bias or lying to prove an underlying point, instead people have made quick conclusions about the news depending on the source to the point where it is common to dismiss a possibly crucial, well written article just due to the publisher.

This has made it harder for true facts and stories to spread when it is hard to swallow and made it easier to spread sweet lies and conspiracy theories. But as much as rallies against the “mainstream media” and shouts “fake news” harm credible reporting, much of this new age of media distrust is due to chronic instances of spinning stories to favor one side and downright lying to attract more attention. The most immediate perpetrator of damage to journalistic integrity is none other than misleading headlines.

It’s easy to twist facts and figures to prove a point, but it is crucial that we recognize that in most cases, news is also a business which motivates these changes in the initial facts and information. Whether it be clicks, newspaper sales, or subscriptions news outlets are motivated to not just tell the news but tell a narrative. The most extreme example of this is supermarket tabloids. Let’s take for instance the front page of a publication by the Globe which claims that the British “Queen Ordered Epstein Murder!” It is true that there is a connection between Prince Andrew and convicted sex offender, Jeffery Epstein did have relations with each other but logistically speaking it would be very difficult for the Queen of Britain to execute Epstein as he was under near constant surveillance, there is no proof that the U.K. intervened in the Epstein case directly. But a tabloid isn’t especially known for its credibility so let’s look at another example from The Atlantic

Back in August, The Atlantic posted a story titled ”The Anthropocene Is a Joke” which was an article giving insight on how the the Anthropocene, which refers to the era that humans have dominated the Earth, is too narrow-minded when taking into account Earth’s geological history. Though the article is well researched and very informative, the title makes it seem as any instance of the Anthropocene as an era is nothing substantial which is detrimental to geologists and scientists who rely on the word to describe our current situation. The title “The Anthropocene Is a Joke” harms the credibility of the scientific community and furthers the notion that news outlets are just looking for clickbait to post.

Another example is by an article published by CNBC via MSN titled “Panera losing nearly all workers in fast-food turnover crisis.” The article describes the problem that many fast food chains have with retaining workers with plenty of quotes from reputable sources. But the problem is again misleading headlines. Reading this article does reveal that Panera is losing many workers, but that state is normal in the fast food industry where employees commonly leave to look for better jobs. Thus Panera is in a way “losing nearly all workers” but in reality it is still functioning well as a fast food chain with new workers replacing the older ones. The impression that this title gives off however infers that Panera is in serious financial trouble and that the fast-food industry is seeing a huge disruption when the problem is less severe than the headline poses.

So what can we do about misleading headlines? Yes they are everywhere, and in fact the title of this article is a misleading headline. But the biggest impact of misleading headlines is that they shape our perception of otherwise objective information. Thus it is important for people to look at different news sources reporting the same information and take extrapolations with a grain of salt. Because journalistic integrity relies on us to trust facts and dismiss wild claims and presumptions, to prevent more headlines that include “destroy the world” in the title.

 Photo courtesy of ILLINOIS PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION