Pulling Back the Curtain

I took Andrew Romano to task the first time I linked to him, but the update to his latest piece is really great, because it gives a glimpse into the workings of modern media.

Romano's piece starts off with an interesting premise--comparing the John McCain of the debate and the robo-calls since then with the John McCain who apparently killed at the Catholic charity event and later on Letterman. It's a pretty standard blog post--an attempt to predict what McCain will do in the closing days of the campaign--will we see more of the Letterman McCain or the robo-call McCain? I don't know, Romano doesn't know, and I suspect McCain doesn't either.

But the editors of MSNBC seem to, based on their choice of headline for Romano's piece. They linked to the front page of MSNBC with the teaser "Is the Old McCain Back?" That's not what Romano was asking, and he must have gotten an earful from readers, because he decided to respond.

For the record, I don't have anything to do with MSNBC's editorial decisions, and if you read the piece, you'll see that I never actually pose that question....

FYI, I wrote earlier this week about how the media is itching to create a McCain comeback narrative--even though the polls provide no evidence of a bounce. Funny how I've now been drafted to help with that effort.
Now I already knew that reporters almost never write their headlines--I worked as the editor of the Op-Ed page of my undergraduate paper for a year and wrote my share of them--but a lot of people don't, I suspect, and this sort of public pushback against a misleading headline is the sort of thing that can help inform the public about how this stuff works.

See, the myth of the liberal media is premised on polls that show journalists are generally center-left on social issues. Eric Alterman, in his amazing book What Liberal Media?, points out in great detail what Romano has just illustrated, namely that journalists have precious little control over what stories they pursue and more importantly, what light those stories are cast in once they leave the reporter's hands. Editors and publishers have far more control over the message than any journalist can have. (Season 5 of The Wire, which was unfairly maligned by many, in my opinion, illustrates this phenomenon wonderfully as well.)

So Romano, in some small way, is saying to the public, read what I wrote, not what someone else paraphrased it as, and don't take it out on me if my bosses argued something I didn't. And he's absolutely right.

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