Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Craft Headlines to Mold Public Opinion

I’ve been disturbed for some time with the propensity of news headline writers to ignore the content of the articles being headlined in favor of hyperbole, misrepresentation and outright falsehood.

The recent news flap about a sudden “melt” on the Greenland ice sheet is a perfect example of escalating “Headline Wars.”

The article in question describes a recent sudden melting of the upper surface of 97% of Greenland’s ice sheet. In the above headline, fairly modest compared to others, the melt is described as “unprecedented.”

However, “Common Dreams Staff” and/or the headline writer, ignored the explanation contained in the article so headlined:

"Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time," says Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data.”
The observed melt is not at all “unprecedented,” having been recorded in historic times and repeatedly earlier.
Some headlines have gone even further, from The Independent. 

Voice of America, in an article that deletes the paragraph about historical periodicty:

Associated Press:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly all of Greenland's massive ice sheet suddenly started melting a bit this month, a freak event that surprised scientists.
This paragrah is a complete lie, as only the surface of the ice sheet melted slightly for a few hours.

Only one source questioned the hyperbolic headlines of its sister publications: in a refreshingly rational article by weatherman JUSTIN BERK

In all of the media hype over Global Warming and Climate Change, no periodicals or news web sites publish scientific literature that calls to question the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis. It’s no wonder the news reading public has become inured to lurid headlines and hyperbolic claims by media pundits. The public has nothing to compare against this headline propaganda onslaught. Few read the story through to the end, even if it does contain an explanation that contradicts the headlines. Most people get their news impressions from headlines and pictures.
Editors, and their handlers, know this well.
Far be it from me to suggest that the news is manipulated by extra-editorial interests. We have a “Free Press” after all, free to print whatever is in the interest of the owners of the press, that is.
This is one advantage that can be gained by reading the news in computer based news aggregators that present the same subject material from a variety of sources. One can compare headlines and content across a broad spectrum.
It’s amazing what one can discover through critical reading and analysis. You may not find The Truth, but you can reveal The Lies in the headlines.

UnCommon Nightmares

I've recently noticed disturbing trends in the content of alleged “news” web sites such as Common Dreams.

I write comments on these sites frequently, mainly because their “news” articles frequently leave out critical parts of stories that do not fit the bias of the publication. (More on this later.) I have frequented Common Dreams, in the past, because it was a central source of articles from around the world on topics I’m particularly interested in, such as climate change.

I was deeply disturbed this past week, after a lengthy exchange on a climate change article on Common Dreams, to see the following announcement.

 All “news” web sites have rules about commenting behavior. It’s necessary to avoid spam, flames and other distracting posts. I moderate each comment to this blog for the same reason, using my own set of criteria. I think I’ve only excluded one comment in the many years I’ve written this blog and I have never banned anyone from submitting comments.

For whatever undisclosed reason(s) (I have received no response to my email query), “Common Dreams Staff” has decided that I may no longer contribute my comments critical of mainstream “Global Warming” hysteria. Others who comment in support of Global Warming articles, no matter how inflammatory, inane or repetitive, continue to post. Yet my comments pointing out the science that contradicts the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypotheses are denied exposure.

Not only am I denied access to future comments on Common Dreams, all of my prevous comments managed by Disqus have been disappeared down the Memory Hole. This is 1984 writ large in 2012.

This action by Common Dreams Staff is the culmination of a trend I've observed with concern since the first of the year.

I’ve noticed, with considerable irritation, a number of articles on Common Dreams attributed to “Common Dreams Staff,” at first postings that cited more than one article and source, but more recently, articles written by Common Dreams Staff and only incidentally referring to other press releases.

The change began on January 2rd of this year with the byline “, rather than the usual byline indicating where an article was originally published.

This was followed, on January 4 by a one line, unattributed comment in an article bylined, and the first article attributed to “Common Dreams Staff.”

After January 4, the part of the article written by unspecified “Common Dreams Staff” increased in length, until recently, when entire articles started to appear, attributed to “Common Dreams Staff,” with no credit given to the articles’ author(s).

Scientists fear the impact of feedback loops as dramatic ice loss begets further melting

Searching for “Common Dreams Staff” on their web site reveals five “Key Staff:” Craig Brown, Jon Quelly, Andrea Germanos, Abbey Zimet and Malory Shaughnessy. As near as I can determine, none of these “Key Staff” have been credited as authors of Common Dreams articles, as they are identified as Executive Director, three Editors and one Director of Development and Special Projects.

Who are the “Common Dreams Staff” that are writing these articles and what are their political, economic and environmental biases? 

Common Dreams seems to have followed the “Democracy Now” model of development from news reporting to news commenting. Since authors of these Common Dreams opinion pieces are unattributed, we have no way of knowing how to evaluate the opinions expressed, as we have no way of knowing what influences are guiding and formulating these opinions. 

Transparency is needed at Common Dreams, lest they become UnCommon Nightmares.

I'll have more to say about recent trends in "news" reporting in the following post: "How to Craft Headlines to Mold Public Opinion."