Why Are Political Headlines so Limp?

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Steve Benen and James Fallows remind me of one of my favorite pet peeves today: the routine use of headlines that blame “the Senate” or “Congress” for blocking a bill. For example: last night every Senate Republican banded together to filibuster a vote on Obama’s jobs bill. So how did the New York Times copy desk headline this? Like so: “Obama’s Jobs Bill Fails in Senate in First Legislative Test.” Nothing about Republicans and nothing about a filibuster. Fallows comments:

The subhead and story make the real situation clear. So how about a headline that says plainly what happened: “Obama’s Job Bill Blocked by GOP in Procedural Move” It would fit. And it would help offset the mounting mis-impression that the Constitution dictates a 60-vote margin for getting anything done.

Consider yourselves lucky, guys! My morning copy of the LA Times headlined it just as badly, and unlike the NYT, the subhead doesn’t make things any clearer. Needless to say, there was no need for this. The hed could just as well have read “GOP Kills Obama Jobs Plan” if they’d wanted it to.

So why didn’t they? This is a genuine question. Why do newspaper editors shy away from making partisan differences clearer in headlines? Is it because two (2) Democrats also voted against the bill, so they think it’s unfair to blame it all on Republicans? Is it because they don’t want to seem too partisan themselves? Or what? If any friendly copy desk chief has an explanation for this, I’d be happy to pass it along.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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