It’s not the story – it’s the headline

Mainstream news outlets are under criticism for some of their stories about President Trump.  Here are recent examples:

CNN headline, May 10: "Sources: James Comey sought more resources for Russia investigation."

In the second paragraph of the story, we learn that those sources are "two sources familiar with the discussion."

Washington Post headline, May 15: "Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador."

In the first paragraph, the Post credits the story to "current and former U. S. officials[.]"

New York Times headline, May 16: "Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation."

Not until the sixth paragraph do we learn that the source was "one of Mr. Comey's associates [who] read parts of it to a Times reporter."

What's the problem with these stories?  If you guessed "anonymous sources," guess again.  Anonymous sources have been a staple of respectable news reporting for...well, forever.  Remember Deep Throat, identified as FBI special agent Mark Felt only shortly before his death in 2008, who helped Woodward and Bernstein take down President Nixon?

The current problem is reporters' overreliance upon anonymous sources.  In the 1970s, Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradley demanded that Woodward and Bernstein get confirmation by on-record sources before he'd print their stories.  Now that's all changed.  On-record sources almost seem like a quaint throwback to an earlier age.

Many readers only scan headlines, while others read the stories but remember only the headlines.  To such people, the headlines falsely appear as established facts.  News editors dedicated to truth will be dismayed, no doubt, to learn that many of their readers are thus being misled.  Surely, they will welcome and implement the following simple solution: they should note all anonymously sourced information in the headline.

This practice would give us the following:

Improved CNN headline May 10: "Two persons who say they are familiar with the discussion but who wish to remain unnamed, allege that James Comey sought more resources for Russian investigation."

Improved Washington Post headline May 15: "According to persons claiming to be current and former U. S. officials but who do not wish their names or titles to be associated this report, Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador."

Improved New York Times headline May 16: "A Person Who Identifies Himself as an Associate of Mr. Comey but Who Insists on Anonymity, and Who Claims to be in Possession of a Memo Written by Mr. Comey which He Will Not Show Us, Has Read What He Asserts to be Parts of the Presumptive Memo to a Times Reporter, Whom We shall not Name, that Indicate President Trump Asked Mr. Comey to End Flynn Investigation."

Isn't that better?

Mainstream news outlets are under criticism for some of their stories about President Trump.  Here are recent examples:

CNN headline, May 10: "Sources: James Comey sought more resources for Russia investigation."

In the second paragraph of the story, we learn that those sources are "two sources familiar with the discussion."

Washington Post headline, May 15: "Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador."

In the first paragraph, the Post credits the story to "current and former U. S. officials[.]"

New York Times headline, May 16: "Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation."

Not until the sixth paragraph do we learn that the source was "one of Mr. Comey's associates [who] read parts of it to a Times reporter."

What's the problem with these stories?  If you guessed "anonymous sources," guess again.  Anonymous sources have been a staple of respectable news reporting for...well, forever.  Remember Deep Throat, identified as FBI special agent Mark Felt only shortly before his death in 2008, who helped Woodward and Bernstein take down President Nixon?

The current problem is reporters' overreliance upon anonymous sources.  In the 1970s, Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradley demanded that Woodward and Bernstein get confirmation by on-record sources before he'd print their stories.  Now that's all changed.  On-record sources almost seem like a quaint throwback to an earlier age.

Many readers only scan headlines, while others read the stories but remember only the headlines.  To such people, the headlines falsely appear as established facts.  News editors dedicated to truth will be dismayed, no doubt, to learn that many of their readers are thus being misled.  Surely, they will welcome and implement the following simple solution: they should note all anonymously sourced information in the headline.

This practice would give us the following:

Improved CNN headline May 10: "Two persons who say they are familiar with the discussion but who wish to remain unnamed, allege that James Comey sought more resources for Russian investigation."

Improved Washington Post headline May 15: "According to persons claiming to be current and former U. S. officials but who do not wish their names or titles to be associated this report, Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador."

Improved New York Times headline May 16: "A Person Who Identifies Himself as an Associate of Mr. Comey but Who Insists on Anonymity, and Who Claims to be in Possession of a Memo Written by Mr. Comey which He Will Not Show Us, Has Read What He Asserts to be Parts of the Presumptive Memo to a Times Reporter, Whom We shall not Name, that Indicate President Trump Asked Mr. Comey to End Flynn Investigation."

Isn't that better?