Headlines. They are designed from their very inception to grab your attention, to compel you to feel one thing or another. “British Scientist Cures Aids!” “Brad Pitt Devastated at Abuse Allegations.” “Hillary Clinton Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease!” I mean, look at that right there; elation, sad indignation and shock respectively. Maybe you want to find out more. If you care enough about the people and the issues. If you have enough time between all the minutiae or even maxutiae of your life, that is. If nothing else draws your attention more. Otherwise, you move along, content with the somewhat cathartic experience that was having felt something about a statement.
And listen, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sensationalism sells and clickbait is a thing and as long as no one is getting hurt then go ahead. Hit that headline. You know, I wrote for a while for a “multi-source online news aggregate.” It hurt my soul every time, but I did it because money is necessary and all of that. But you know, the more sensational the headline, the more clicks I got. It’s human nature, for better or worse. I don’t even feel like there’s anything wrong with that short burst of catharsis, either. We sometimes need to feel little, fleeting bits of something. It’s a nice change from the larger, real emotions that come with dealing with reality. Except. ..
Except that people have started speaking in headlines, too. Facebook. Twitter. Whole conversations that are nothing but summarizations of an event with added emotion and an exclamation point for punch. Except, that with that people have stopped looking deeper. And that’s where the problem lies. I have an ex-husband. He used to say that one of his favorite parts of being a soldier is that it made for better headlines. You know “United States Soldier Imprisioned for Not Fastening Seatbelt.” Or “National Guardsmen Left Unable to Serve Due to Dishonest Mechanic.” “Deployed Soldier Victim of Usery.” He would say this often and while true, it exemplifies everything that is wrong with headlines.
1. While technically true, headlines are not the whole story. The proof is in the pudding. The devil is in the details. Use whatever metaphor you like, but we all know that an incomplete truth is a lie and that’s what a headline is. It is a snippet of the truth. If you don’t read on, you don’t know the whole story. To go back to the beginning of the post, we don’t know that in reality the first member of a trail group has gone through their first test since treatment and is showing negative for the AIDS virus. We don’t know that Brad Pitt is going along with anything and everything suggested by the professionals in order to show that he is not abusive and to help his kids. We don’t know that the doctor who “diagnosed” Hillary has never actually treated the woman. We don’t know. And that’s not on the one who wrote the headline. That’s on us. It’s on us to care enough to inform ourselves and not be content with catharsis.
2. They are INTENTIONALLY spun to make you feel something. You are being manipulated. You are. Chemicals and endorphins are being caused to flow and if you don’t take a minute to step back, if you just reply with a headline of your own, then more chemicals flow without facts. And more. And more. And we as a society have a tendency for “topping,” which makes it all that much worse. It becomes all feeling and no facts.
3. Than, after all the feeling is done, and the half-truths are told, these things are then passed on as truth. Without any of the research being done. Because at the end of the day we are emotion junkies and we want to be important and the only thing better for some people than getting juicy news is GIVING juicy news. And sometimes, people take these emotion-driven half truths and act on them. They actually take action based on a headline that is now fourth hand information.
But folks, there are PEOPLE behind those headlines. That’s twofold. There are people writing the headlines, and they have their own intentions. You deserve to have something real. A real opinion. A real emotion. Based on the real story. YOU DESERVE THAT. The person writing the headline is probably serving themselves. Which isn't a problem, as long as there's an article that follows. Except ever increasingly there isn't. More importantly, though, there are people ABOUT WHOM YOU ARE WRITING THE HEADLINES. Those people? They deserve for you to take the time as well. You are ruining these people’s reputations. You are hurting their feelings. You are making their life more difficult and if you think it doesn’t matter you’re flat wrong. It does. And if you care enough to use them for your own little emotional high, you should care enough to fact check a little bit. Otherwise, you’re just hurting them for your own thrill.
Harsh? Maybe. But I’ve heard about a lot of headlining going on about me, some from people I respected. Were the things they were saying true? Technically, yes. Sometimes. By the thinnest of margins. But was it the whole story? Not even close. Was there anything to be gained by their actions? Not really. Did it suck? Wholeheartedly. While I understand the wisdom of never arguing with a fool, for the reasons that people wiser than me have said, and while a dear dear friend pointed me towards Exodus 14:14 and I've been clinging to that, and while Dr. Seuss that "those who mind don't matter and those that matter don't mind" or something like that, it's hard. And frustrating.
So, as you move about your day, sometimes in 140 characters or a talk to text Facebook message, please consider if you are headlining or being headlined.
Because we all deserve more than that.