Who Got the Comey Headline Right?

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Here’s a question for you all to ponder. Last night I took snapshots of four newspapers after FBI director James Comey announced that the emails they had reviewed on Anthony Wiener’s computer didn’t show anything new. Here are the four headlines:

At the top left, the LA Times says the FBI has “cleared” Hillary Clinton. On the bottom left, the New York Times declines to say Clinton has been cleared, only that the new emails “don’t warrant action” against Clinton. Finally, on the right, we have the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. They use pretty loaded language, saying there are no grounds for “charges” against Clinton.

Who got it right? My take is that the word “charge” is inherently negative. It leaves readers with the impression that Clinton might be guilty after all, but has somehow managed to skate by. Given what we now know—that Clinton was careless but did nothing seriously wrong—it strikes me as putting a big thumb on the scale. If you’re going to use legalistic language, why not follow the lead of the LA Times and say that Clinton has been “cleared”? That’s what happened, after all, and it better gets the point across that this was basically good news for Clinton.

The New York Times is somewhere in between. Perhaps someone less partisan than me would find it the best compromise. For my part, I think the LA Times got it right, while the Journal and the Post screwed up. There’s nothing technically wrong with their headlines, but they leave a groundlessly sordid impression.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate