The New York Times is one of the largest, most widely-read newspapers in the United States and the world. It’s a source of news for a majority of the population and is considered the nation’s “paper of record.” But, as fictional journalist Peter Parker learned himself—with great power comes great responsibility.
Unfortunately, The Times has come under fire yet again for publishing a misleading headline, this time one that was blatantly and knowingly false. The article in question has now changed the headline to “Murders Increased During the Pandemic. Did They Also Get Harder to Solve?”
The original title? “After Murders ‘Doubled Overnight,’ the N.Y.P.D. is Solving Fewer Cases.”
Big difference between those two implications.
Civil Rights Corps Founder and Executive Director Alec Karakatsanis published an extremely thorough, detailed thread on Twitter explaining the dangers behind such an inaccurate headline.
THREAD: Yesterday, the New York Times published a headline it knew was false. The implications of this are dangerous for everyone who cares about an informed public. Here’s what happened:— Alec Karakatsanis (@equalityAlec) November 27, 2021
If murders had indeed doubled, why put that claim in quotes? It’s because it is a direct quote from a source and yet this quote is not backed up by any facts. The statement is inherently wrong and should have never made it into a headline, let alone the headline of a major media company whose content is behind a paywall.
Here it gets worse. See the sleight of hand? NYT editors took the (false) "caseloads" quote, put it in quotes, and then put it in the headline as applying to “murders”! They did this b/c a larger number of people will see the headline. They did it to create clicks and outrage.— Alec Karakatsanis (@equalityAlec) November 27, 2021
What is the allure of media and journalism today? Why are stories written to generate clicks and subscriptions overly difficult to cancel? Does it just boil down to money now?
It’s disheartening to see such an important profession fall into this trap. And I am being pessimistic, I don’t mean to say that there are no journalists interested in reporting for the sake of spreading awareness or sharing news. I’m more disappointed by the dominant companies casting a shadow over that hard work and painting the profession in a negative light.
We’ve written on this blog before about the dangers of “clickbait,” and the irresponsibility behind spreading only doomsday news. People largely distrust the news already and slip-ups like this one from The Times aren’t helping.
I’ve started to lean more towards following individual voices rather than companies or news sources and—though I may be biased as I work at a company that promotes blogging—I think blogging is one way to combat the dominant, sometimes dangerous voices, and put forth one that is altruistic.
Legal blogging specifically is a great window into the already confusing and intimidating world of law. We need more voices willing to talk about the truth, more voices that are genuinely writing with others’ best interests in mind. More voices that don’t focus on clicks and subscribers and numbers, but impactful change.
I’ll get off my soapbox now, but it’s just frustrating to see this cycle with The Times repeat once again.