Misleading headlines distort coverage


Many misleading headlines have arisen from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

CNN released a story with this headline following an attack on Tuesday titled “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians killed in synagogue attack, Israeli police say.” Although this headline does not indicate it in any way, the “2 Palestinians” were the terrorists. An update to the headline was no better, referring to an attack on a Jerusalem “mosque” when in fact it was a synagogue.

This follows a report last month by the Associated Press given the headline “Israeli police shoot man in east Jerusalem.” From this headline only, one would infer that the Israeli police were the aggressors and the man the victim when in fact the roles were opposite. From the story you learn that Israeli police shot a man who slammed his car into a crowd of people waiting at a train stop in an act of suspected terrorism and tried to run.

Misleading headlines, such as these, are dangerous. Many people gather news simply by reading headlines, and while the habit is not ideal, it is a fact of which journalists need to be mindful.

For another thing, studies have shown that the initial perception formed in a reader’s mind by the headline will taint his/her interpretation of the entire story that follows.

I’m not suggesting every headline should be full of name-calling, but the perpetrator-victim relationship must not be distorted, whether misrepresented on purpose or not, as this has the potential to vilify innocent people.