Last week, The Wall Street Journal broke the news of Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s careless emails to the Washington Football Team’s owner. In one of those emails, Gruden ridiculed the Black executive director of the NFL Players Association saying he had “lips the size of Michelin tires.”
Gruden coached his team on Sunday when they lost to the Chicago Bears. All the while, more of his unsavory emails came to light and the inevitability of him being fired or resigning became reality.
Jon Gruden stepped down on Monday.
It wasn’t front-page news in Des Moines, Raleigh, or even Miami. But it was in the big city papers.
The headline indignation was illuminating. Some newspapers’ headlines presented the Sargent-Joe-Friday-all-we-want-are-the-facts-ma’am version while others editorialized.
The Houston Chronicle— “Jon Gruden resigns as Raiders coach over offensive emails”
The Wall Street Journal—”Jon Gruden Out as Raiders Coach After Email Scandal”
The San Francisco Chronicle—”Jon Gruden resigns as Raiders coach over offensive emails”
The Boston Globe—” Jon Gruden resigns as Raiders coach amid report he sent more offensive emails”
William Randolph Hearst is credited with developing sensationalized journalism, a strategy to sell newspapers. His newspapers had “sprawling banner headlines and hyperbolic stories, many based on speculation and half-truths.”
Sprawling banner headlines
The Los Angeles Times—”Jon Gruden out as Raiders coach over racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails”
The Washington Post—”Jon Gruden resigns as Raiders coach after he also used homophobic, misogynistic language in emails”
The Chicago Tribune—”Jon Gruden resigns as Las Vegas Raiders coach after a report details frequent misogynistic and homophobic language in emails”
The New York Times—”Raiders Coach Resigns After Homophobic and Misogynistic Emails”
Readers who open the story with a strictly-the-facts headline are given the opportunity to be open-minded and not prematurely judgmental of Jon Gruden. On the other hand, those who read the sprawling-banner-headline stories begin the pieces believing they are simply learning more about a racist, homophobe, and misogynist.
How did The New York Times headline the 2016 stories of Hillary Clinton emails where an FBI investigation concluded “she and her aides were ‘extremely careless’ in their handling of classified information?”
In these cases, the headlines don’t look Hearstian.
“Lynch Discusses Clinton’s Emails”
“Why Clinton’s Emails Matter”
“Last Batch of Hillary Clinton’s Emails Is Released”
What about the Los Angeles Times headlines? Not Hearstian either.
“Hillary Clinton email investigation, part 1”
“Hillary Clinton email investigation, part 2”
“FBI Recommends No Prosecution in Hillary Clinton Email Case”
If journalists want their stories to be more facts and have fewer opinions, they should steer clear of sprawling banner headlines and aim at strictly-the-facts ones.
America and Americans would be better off for it.
Image at top: By SteelCityHobbies – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3491009