From top: The Irish Times, February 15, 2021; Luke Brennan
Can you spot the difference between the above, and this, speaking about Greta Thunberg…
“I’m not trying to take anything away from her. And every movement needs iconic leaders who speak, and that’s a pretty good thing. But there’s probably some teenager who believes that the Rohingya should be treated better, and another who thinks we’re not investing enough in good education. So the world has sought her out to speak in this clear, almost innocent way about a cause that we’re trying to orchestrate our energy around, and say, hey, can we maintain this and convince people to make sacrifices? And how big do these sacrifices need to be? So I’m glad: you can’t have a movement without high-visibility figures. I hope she’s not messing up her education. She seems very clever.”
The first quote is an Irish Times headline, leading to an article, which contains the text below it. The article was first published in The Guardian on February 15, then reprinted under the above headline in the IT on February 16. Nothing unusual in that, much of The Irish Times content these days is articles reprinted from The Guardian, The New York Times, Financial Times, etc.
The article went straight into the Irish Times “most read” articles category, staying there for four days. It even made a second appearance last week, I was surprised to see a three-week old article finding such readership, but it really is quite a headline.
What surprises me more, is the difference between the implication of the headline and the text to which it refers.
My (basic) understanding of grammar would lead me to believe that what they should say is “Bill Gates: ‘I’m not trying to take anything away from Greta Thunberg…but’”. In that the ‘but’ does not appear in the same sentence, or the following sentence, but the one after it.
That is some serious ‘but’ searching they have carried out. Based on their example, you could take any book with the word ‘but’ in it, then quote from it, taking any statement you wish then add ’,but…’ to create a headline quote.
It’s not as if they don’t have a roster of international standard journalists, a room full of editors and more grammar junkies than would comfortably exist in a room together. I am imagining grammar pedantry is not off the menu. I’m guessing that when something is incorrect, everyone is very aware.
But what exactly happens when they review the most popular stories each week and see that this ‘truth gap’ is clearly present. Do they argue that it should be corrected? Does everybody look at their shoes? Is it squeaky bum time?
And what happens when the same article appears again three weeks later? Do they say “That headline is unbelievable”. Or is it like a fart at an executive meeting which is best ignored? It must be difficult to ignore. But it brings me back to a question they must ask…‘Is this true?’.
It is a noble act to wind the clock over in D’Olier street and I do not mean to diminish it. But it must be remembered that they are not manufacturing truth, merely endeavouring to present an accurate representation of it.
You might say, “Who is harmed?” But I would say that more people see a headline than read the article. Bill Gates? I’m sure he cares little, but It would be disappointing to him to be misrepresented in this way.
Greta Thunberg? Thick skinned, but I’m sure it get a little tiresome the way newspapers use her name and image as a way to ‘trigger’ all those that feel they don’t need to be lectured by a teenager about the world. Bill Gates does a good job of showcasing the good reasons for her deserved world profile in the article, the headline implies he’s taking her down.
I presented a similar situation here on Broadsheet two months back, where a similar disconnect existed between a headline and article in The Guardian. The headline in that instance, “They said I wasn’t hot enough: Carey Mulligan hits out again at Magazine review”. My issue with that? They removed the word ‘basically’ from between wasn’t and hot.
Within 24 hours of that article, it was aped (the killer headline, rather than the article) by Donald Clarke at the Irish Times, with the headline “Not hot enough: Why has Variety apologised to Carey Mulligan?”
I know that Donald Clarke, a fine journalist, is not to blame for this, his phone probably rings to ask him if he has his copy to file at 4pm. He admits he has not and then, I imagine, is told in no uncertain terms to “deliver 2000 words by 5pm and make it clicky!” He says, “Yes boss.”, the result is the above article.
So, both article titles leave out the ‘basically’ but there was another gift in this, as another Broadsheet reader pointed out to me that what Carey Mulligan actually said was “It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse.” (my italics)
Now the “It felt” in there, which I was not initially aware of, is significant for me. Not in terms of what Carey says, but in terms of the bigger picture of the article, why the truth of it was important to me.
For me, life has two realities, how it is, and how it feels.
It is something that I’ve often had to remind myself of in tough times, that things might feel a certain way, but that may not be how things ‘are’. I think that is something fundamental to our human perspective. Often it is an obstacle we must overcome to resolve a problem.
Back in my days as a laboratory assistant, when we wanted to measure the make-up of a sample (Science has a more effective set of rules for discovering the truth of a situation) there was a process of calibration any machine would go through before it would start measuring.
This is the purpose of truth. We use the truth to calibrate our emotions, it allows us to see the difference between how it is and how it feels. I think it is an Irish thing, this emotional streak. We like to live close to our skin.
That may seem to go a bit deep for an analysis of newspaper headlines. We know why they do it, newspapers are scared senseless of becoming irrelevant in the Internet age. It is the high stature I hold the Irish Times in that makes me feel their version of the truth should be held to high account.
But what use is the clock on D’Olier street, if it is not accurate?
‘Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as a northern star”
And I said, “Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?’
We need truth, constancy and accuracy to accurately know things. With enough hands, you can carry the sundial of truth around your garden to change the perceived hour. You may look silly today; but you will render it useless tomorrow.
As Joni says, we need constancy, without it, we’re in the dark.
Previously: Luke Brennan on Broadsheet