01 June 2007

Headlines and the Police

Sometimes there is something about a headline that belies the core of the article beneath it. Just to stay away from emotionally charged topics, I'll to use a very minor, non-emotional (except, perhaps, for long-time fans) article I ran across this morning. Yahoo.news had on its front page this morning the headline "Police drummer rips band's 'lame' concert."

In the opening paragraph, the article cherry-picks one comment from the drummer, Stewart Copeland, which indicates Sting, lead singer and bassist in the band, jumps like a "petulant pansy." In the second paragraph, the article's author says that Copeland "unleashed his vitriol" on his website after the band's second show in Vancouver. One would think that the rest of the article would catalogue Copeland's rant against his band-mates.

But after reading the whole article, nothing seems further from the truth. Sure Copeland makes some critical observations of the band's show and does not attempt to hide who made what mistakes when, but that hardly seems like vitriol. Comments like the band being out of step, individuals making momentary mistakes or temporarily being on separate sheets of music do not seem, to a person who is willing to listen and comprehend, like spouting vitriol.

It seems more like an open discussion of what professional musicians would discuss after a bad show, which at least from Copeland's point of view this was. The only difference here is that in our endlessly connected world of instant media, we were given a chance to listen in on the critical exchange within a professional musical trio. That the article ends with commentary that after the show Copeland said, "The threesome fell into each other's arms laughing hysterically" runs counter to the headline and opening of the article. Those who only read the headline would miss the context of the rest of the article and would probably form incorrect impressions.

Because the article happens to discuss something which we probably don't get a huge emotional charge about, I think, allows us to think about other instances, more emotionally charged instances, where headlines might lead us astray. In a sound-byte world, it's easy to be mislead by the loudest shout, the brightest light, the most extreme story. But what's really important is the substance underneath, and I fear that too often that substance is not reflected by those bright, shinny lights that catch our attention.

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