McCarthy: A Journalism of Misdirection

July 10, 2017

Misdirection — it is what makes a magician successful. The specific idea is to attract attention away from what is really going on. In a magic show its use is completely necessary and certainly approved, not so much when it is used in presenting news stories.

The Indianapolis Star recently gave us a front-page story headlined, “Pence emails to cost state $100K.” The story itself was by-lined by two reporters, but we don’t know who wrote the headline. The difference in approach makes it seem the reporters and the headline writer were strangers to each other.

The first words in the story are, “Interest in Vice President Mike Pence’s . . .”  The fourth paragraph opens with, “Most of the pending records requests in the governor’s office since March are from media outlets . . .”  (our emphasis).

The headline appears to be a misdirection by connecting the name Pence with an expenditure of public funds for which he had absolutely no responsibility. Indeed, the story points out early and clearly that the cost will result from requests from media personnel who, in our opinion and in today’s political climate, most likely were searching for a word, a phrase, a sentence or maybe just a “typo” that could be twisted and spun to the detriment of the Vice President and by association the Trump administration.

This criticism should not be taken as approval of what is going on in Washington by either political party. But we do think less “misdirection” in the media might help calm the storm.

It should be added that we clearly understand — and in most cases agree with — the old saying that it is a poorly advised decision to cross swords (pens) with the man who has an agenda, buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton. But sometimes a thing just needs to be said. — Fred McCarthy


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