The Electric Commentary

Monday, July 26, 2004

It's Monday, Time for HEADLINES!

In the wake of the 9/11 commission’s report major newspapers rushed to focus on particular elements for their headlines. A look at headlines throughout the SF Bay Area shows why media consolidation is a threat to democracy.

The usually stridently liberal San Francisco Chronicle declared, “U.S. Safer – but not Safe.” The San Jose Mercury News chose to spread the blame with the headline, “Panel’s Searing Look At Government Failure,” while the nationally distributed New York Times focused on the intelligence failure with, “Report Calls for a Sweeping Overhaul of Intelligence.” In my opinion the most partisan headlines came from the national daily USA Today, “Fix Terror Strategy Panel Says.”

While all of these headlines may technically be accurate, they do lend themselves to different interpretations of the panels findings. A casual read of the Chronicle of the Times might lead a reader to believe that Bush has done his best and America is safer as a result, while a quick glance at the Mercury News or USA Today might lead one to conclude that Bush is a massive failure in the terror arena.

It’s important that these different voices compete for attention as one can find a variety of coverage and separate the relevant bits from the chaff. Some markets offer only one major paper and its inhabitants must actively seek alternatives. If one corporation owned all 4 papers I examined they could have run the headline to 7 million Bay Area residents, “Panel Finds 8 Missed Opportunities to Take Down bin Laden on Bush’s Watch;” or “AMERICA SAFER!” and they would both be correct.


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