Welcome to GAT Daily. If you clicked on this headline to see if we were talking about yet another shooting in the United States, the answer is no.
We aren’t talking about particular shootings so much as we are talking about headlines. It is well known that a large section of the consumer market only consumes the headline of any given informative or opinion piece, an even larger segment only consume the headline and maybe a paragraph or two… so this is the last paragraph some of you will read. That’s fine, we’re all busy folks and I hope you will swing back later.
But for those reading on,
Shootings in the News
You may have noticed an astonishing increase in the number of shooting related headlines permeating the news. If you did, that is deliberate. People click them because tragedy sells, it grabs attention, at the very least seeing the headline sparks a tiny bit of memory and the consumer can ‘fill in the rest’ without reading.
Both getting the click and showing the headline have value for various entities. Especially media entities who are agenda aligned, like perhaps a network noted for being decidedly anti-2A (but they assure you they aren’t, they’re just ‘reasonable’), but that’s hypothetical… obviously.
If you click, they get the view. They can even get that view while accurately (or reasonably accurately) portraying an event below the headline. They don’t need to overly dilute the story, they did so in the headline and more people consume the headline. So for every person that read and understood the event from the piece, multiple people based their understanding of the event solely on the headline they read.
These entities will capitalize on the power of their headline. They will use that headline to shape the formative thoughts about an event, even as they accurately portray the events in the follow-on narrative, even as that narrative calls into question the particular and sometimes rather misleading context of the headline itself. That headline shaped more thoughts than the rest of the piece.
They are weaponizing the headline so that you, Joe & Jane Public, will fill in rest based upon previous context from other cognitively linked events and formative context.
Let’s take this example:
This is actually a fairly tame example of what we are discussing. Other headlines immediately thrust this into the spotlight as another mass shooting, similar to FedEx. “9 Children Shot…” is another variant I’ve seen that is a little more leading, from People.com.
Yet – No arrests have been made and the sheriff, Mike Tregre, said that “not one” witness has given authorities a formal statement about what happened.
Hmmm, why would that be? This happened in front of 60 people and yet nobody is talking?
More than 60 people were gathered at the party when an argument broke out between two groups with an ongoing feud, authorities said.
[when an argument broke out between two groups with an ongoing feud]
Ah, there it is. This was a gang fight. Oh… sorry, gang is a “charged” term, I meant this was a fight between two groups who are known to be hostile toward each other usually due to competition and rivalries linked to criminal activities. The ‘children’ involved were all teens, with the exception of a 12-year-old wounded in both legs. There was one 13-year-old that may yet qualify as a ‘child’ in the maternal and paternal sense (the one People headline is trying to invoke), but the remainder were 14 to 17 years old. That age where people can be tried as fully cognizant adults for what occurred.
So in that case, with all that context, with a working understanding of what happened (two groups had beef at the same party and things got bloody/territorial/score settling, a far from unheard of event) why would People headline it “9 Children Shot and Injured at Birthday Party” and “12-year-old” gets a ton of emphasis too.
Those are factual statements in the headlines… from a certain point of view (thanks there Obi-wan), however the formative initial impression is drastically different than the contextualized reality.
For every person who clicks, reads, and understands, they can get ten (actually far more when you look at click-thru metrics) who will see the headlines and simply assume some variation of, ‘Oh no, somebody attacked a kids birthday party! It’s all this gun violence! Kids are being shot at birthday parties! We must do something!!‘ and that thought is far more valuable, when pushing gun control legislation.
It is profitable to make you, the consumer, imagine it was a bunch of small children in conical birthday hats who were gunned down with no provocation. It is less profitable, towards certain goals, to convey that this was two groups who got into a fight, with a known history of conflict, and that nobody who witnessed the event is talking to authorities about it. Likely because they are all connected to the participants in the fight enough that they would rather take care of the aftermath ‘in-house’ as it were, instead of involving the repercussions associated with law enforcement.
Law enforcement involvement is clearly not welcome or desired in this instance, that is abundantly clear. But we didn’t get a headline along the lines of…
“9 teens wounded by gunfire in a fight at 12-year-olds birthday. No witnesses speaking to police.”
With two short sentences, that conveyed a very accurate summation of the events and painted a picture for all those who won’t click on the story. A fight occurred, it occurred between young people, guns were used, 9 young people were injured. Anyone with an extra neuron to rub against the first one can put together a reasonable image of what took place. The only lacking element from my headline is that the youngest person injured was 12, not a teenager yet. Who’s birthday party, or rather how old the child whose party it was, is not very relevant to the event.
- 9 kids injured at birthday party in Laplace over the weekend
- Nine wounded, two still hospitalized, in birthday party shooting
- 9 Children Shot & Injured at Louisiana Birthday Party, 2 Still Hospitalized
Those three actual headlines do not convey the event in nearly so accurate terms, they pick an exploitable fact about the event to shape public opinion. Kids or Children were shot at a birthday party. This is to provoke a very deliberate image.
This is the same common obfuscationary practice that has led to such rampant distrust of “mainstream media” but it continues to shape public perception. Anyone reading the story realizes the source was less than forthright in their headline, as in the headline did not preview and shape the story and the reading of the rest filled in the details. Instead it ‘subverts your expectations’ or some such and you’re left realizing, ‘oh, that’s what they meant by “children” shot at a birthday party’ by the end of the reading.
This is the news, we don’t need to bury the lead in a little mystery or creative misdirection in order to report it… unless that creative misdirection serves a public opinion purpose. Saying nine children got shot at a birthday party conjures a more raw and evocative image than saying nine teenagers and a twelve-year-old got shot during a fight and nobody is snitching to the cops. These writer/reporters know that, that is why headlines read the way they do. This is why it seems like we are having an insanely violent spring full of shootings. (fun fact: violence has always trended seasonally, especially in areas where winter is prohibitively cold)
Outlets like Vox, People, and CNN are open advocates for more gun control, so they have additional incentives to grab onto every story they can where it is possible to bury the lead and evoke the public perception to push the agenda they seek. It’s also why coverage isn’t even. The more easily emotionally exploitive events, like the FedEx and Massage Parlor slayings, get more traction than something like the Phillip Adams multiple-murder/suicide.
It’s why teenage toughs who got into a gunfight spat at a neighborhood party for a 12-year-old got reported as, “9 Children Shot…” instead.