Misleading headlines in the Irish Times

May 24th, 2009 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

People ‘fed up’ with negativity of Opposition

So goes a headline in tomorrow’s Irish Times. Intrigued when it showed up in my daily email bulletin, I clicked through. Had there been a survey showing annoyance on the part of the public? Were the opposition failing to strike a chord with the public?

No. In the second paragraph we see that Brian Cowen “also said that people were beginning to get “fed up” with the negativity of Fine Gael and Labour.” That’s a very different story. The leader of the Government is claiming that opposition criticism isn’t popular. Quelle surprise!

This is just sloppy. Cowen has no evidence for the remark – it’s just a rhetorical flourish used to shrug off criticism. There’s nothing reprehensible about his claim; it’s a predictable and understandable deflection.

The IT, on the other hand, should be presenting the situation accurately – in their reports, and in their headlines. A more accurate headline might read:

People ‘fed up’ with Opposition, claims Cowen; or

Cowen: Public ‘fed up with Opposition

Maybe there wasn’t enough space for one of these, so the sub-editor decided to just trim out a few words. But in doing so (s)he changed the core sense of the headline. No longer was it clear that the article was about Cowen’s remarks. Rather a reader will believe (as I did) that the reference was to some independent source that was making the claim.

Sure, it’s a small thing. I don’t expect petitions and protest rallies (though perhaps someone will fashion a letter about spotting the first misleading headline of the season). But this is what the Times does – if you claim to be the newspaper of record, surely it matters how you construct that record.

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