A newspaper in Memphis quickly apologized after protestors complained about its choice of headline in the wake of the deadly police shooting in Dallas.
“Gunman targeted whites,” read the lead story headline in the Commercial Appeal, a member of the USA Today network. The headline was accurate, as Dallas gunman Micah Xavier Johnson explicitly talked about wanted to kill white police officers before he was eliminated via robot bomb.
That didn’t stop protestors from gathering outside the paper’s office in downtown Memphis on Wednesday to express their displeasure, some holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter.”
Commercial Appeal editor Louis Graham quickly apologized after meeting with the protestors, and wrote an editorial titled, “We got it wrong.”
Louis Graham’s editorial has stuff like this:
Those three big words in headline type stretched across Saturday’s front page — Gunman Targeted Whites — were true according to police accounts in Dallas at the time but they badly oversimplified a very complex, rapidly evolving story, and angered many of our readers and many more in the broader community.
In my view the headline was so lacking in context as to be tone deaf, particularly in a city with a 65 percent African American population. That front page minimized the broader refrain of what’s happening in our country with anguish over the deaths of young black men at the hands of police. It has been viewed as suggesting that this newspaper values the lives of white police officers more than young black men who have died in incident after incident.
This guy says he also received objections for a headline that referred to how a bridge was shut down because of a protest instead of referring, more content-free-wise, simply to “peaceful protests.” Anyone forcibly blocking others from going about their business is not being peaceful.
Graham says the “Gunman Targeted Whites” headline failed to capture the entire swirling cauldron of nuances of the fast-moving situation—and that this failure, somehow, makes the headline culpable, objectionable, bad. Bad headline. But the function of headlines is to function as headlines, not to substitute for the detailed report that the headline headlines.
Another thing this editor says is that in a city with so many black people, such a headline is tone-deaf. Some people—the ones who yelled at him—were irrationally upset by it, sure. But the headline didn’t say that all black people in the city target white people. It said the killer targeted white people. Nor did the black people of the town march en masse to protest the newspaper’s brazenly fact-stating headline. The fact-deaf BLM jerks, plus some equally fact-deaf and also vocally obnoxious ones in the “wider community,” were the ones protesting. (The editor reports no poll, by the way, nor even any casual conversations with any persons not offended by the headline. He feels chastised, and the persons of whatever color just minding their own business, unoffended by fact-stating headlines, affect him not. If you want to convince Graham to reverse course on any matter, don’t refer to any truths or facts, just storm his palace and demand craven submission.)
People were angry at the paper, Graham says. Why? For any good reason? How does merely being angry mean that the anger is justified? The editor also says he knows that other readers will be angry at his kowtowing (which he wants to believe he is not doing). How and why is their anger at his appeasement misguided? They’re angry too. What about their anger? I fear that we have competing anger factions here and that the only way to resolve the matter will be to resort to facts. Perhaps the fact that the killer was, by his own admission, targeting whites is relevant after all.
Will all future newspaper headlines need to be rewritten to ensure that they can’t possibly offend anybody for any reason? That would be doubleplusungood, but, what the heck, Graham and similarly brave editorial souls may use the following headline, which covers every contingency. But I require a royalty check to be sent to me oneach of the infinite number of times it will need to be deployed in preemptive appeasement of all unhinged protestors:
-Story in article-
This catchall will be especially useful for readers scanning contents pages. I wish I could give the above lustrous gem away for free, but I put so much work into ensuring that nobody of any view could possibly take offense. (Not counting partisans of objectivity and justice, substantive content, etc., that is.) As for the story itself—no! Don’t start reporting any of the facts in the column inches of the formal report either. People could really get upset.