Read the whole story, not just the headline

AB Boyd | Cartoonist

In a time when our society is so divided over politics and civil rights, it is more important than ever to read the whole article, not just the headline.

There are two main reasons for this: to get the whole picture, and to ensure that you’re not reading into a bias – whether that is your own or the source’s.

In an ideal world, news outlets and media organizations would provide their readers and viewers with objective, unbiased information about current events. However, this is not always the case.

Additionally, headlines are specifically designed to grab the reader’s attention. Because of this, certain aspects of a story are often emphasized in a headline to generate views. But there is a fine line between being attention-grabbing and being misleading.

The truth is that some news outlets lean more liberal, while others lean toward more conservative views. Some outlets may have almost no bias in either direction while others are extremely partisan. With that in mind, you must be sure to read the entirety of an article, and read from more sources than just one before forming views on a specific event or story. There is always a chance that the author has written a headline with specific information added or excluded in order to portray a certain perspective on the given story.

If you are reading about breaking news, there will likely be multiple stories run by each media outlet as new information emerges and updates are published. If you choose to only read the headlines, you will miss out on important details that may be critical to understanding the topic.

An example of this would be coverage of the recent police shooting and subsequent protests in Kenosha, Wis. Jacob Blake’s story is well-known by this point. Officers were attempting to arrest Blake after a woman had called the police on her boyfriend. Two officers used their stun guns to try to arrest Blake but were unsuccessful. While walking away from officers and trying to get in his car, police opened fire and shot Blake seven times in the back, leaving him partially paralyzed.

During the ensuing protests, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people in a scuffle with protestors – killing two and injuring a third. He has been charged with six counts, including first-degree intentional homicide and possession of a dangerous weapon as a minor. Following the shooting, videos surfaced on social media that showed Rittenhouse running while carrying a long gun. He can also be heard saying, “I just killed somebody.” Rittenhouse had travelled from Illinois and claimed he was at the protests to protect local businesses. His lawyers are claiming that his actions were made in self-defense.

A New York Post headline about Blake said, “Jacob Blake had a knife in his car when he was shot by police, DOJ says.” Another New York Post headline — this one about Rittenhouse — said, “Suspected Kenosha gunman Kyle Rittenhouse spotted cleaning graffiti before shooting.” Conversely, Mother Jones published a headline which said “Wisconsin Police Shot Jacob Blake in ‘Broad Daylight.'”

While all three headlines are true, they’re designed to push a specific view of the events which unfolded. Putting the fact that Blake had a knife in his car front-and-center could be seen as implying he intended it use it. Running a headline about Rittenhouse cleaning graffiti is a way to distract from the fact that he killed two people and depict him in a more positive light. Using “in broad daylight” to describe the police shooting Blake is meant to convey a sense of brutality.

Tactics like these are used by outlets across the political spectrum that seek to push their specific agendas. The New York Post is a right-leaning publication, and is more likely to spin stories to favor a conservative viewpoint. Mother Jones, a left-leaning publication, used a headline skewed toward its more liberal readership.

Because they have to be short, even accurate and unbiased headlines can be lack crucial context. An example of this would be stories covering the recent discovery made on Venus — a discovery that could potentially be a sign of life on the planet. Upon googling the phrase “life on Venus,” a multitude of headlines pop up. CBS News ran a story with the headline, “Astronomers find possible sign of life on Venus,” and NPR ran a story with the headline A Possible Sign Of Life Right Next Door To Earth, On Venus.

These headlines aren’t played up, but reading them alone could leave readers assuming scientists found some big clue leading them to believe there was life on the planet. However, once reading the full articles, the “possible sign of life” is traced to a molecule called phosphine. This gas could suggest signs of life, as phosphine gas is created on Earth by microorganisms, but scientists have cautioned that they are far from confirming any sort of living organism on the planet.

While these are just a few examples of headlines that could be misleading, there is an endless number of attention-grabbing headlines that could be misinforming if the story is not read in its entirety. Whether the headline is biased or just omits pivotal information regarding a story, the truth is that one can often misjudge a situation without understanding the big picture. So be sure to know the full story before you decide to make a judgment or comment on the situation.