Brad Slager: Journalism’s Mounting Issue with Baiting the Narrative

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It is a shallow and transparent technique in the press, one used more often because it is effective. Deceptive headlines are commonplace, first instituted by lesser news outlets to generate cheap traffic. But over the years it has become a more mainstream tactic, and it is less about drawing eyes than driving a narrative. The title is not for clickbait as much as for rapid dispersal, and the body of the article is crafted to feed that instant gratification.

This is journalism in the digital era. A breaking story, or even a new angle on an existing topic is frequently delivered with a shock-and-awe mentality; a method to get the story they want out there, even when they do not have the story. The headline is the insistence, and the bulk of the story is the insinuation.

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For proof that this is an effective gambit oftentimes the feature will offer up disqualifying details, the headline and core of the article or column undone by the central facts. Even as it appears the fraud is obvious there is no accountability, so the risk to a reputation is minimal. This is how we know it works. The outlet is unbothered, as getting the story they want out there is the priority, and the hit they endure later is of little concern.

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These are the items most likely to be spread blithely across social media. Many think this feeds lazy readers with gulp-able facts, but with more frequency we see that it is other journalists and news outlets who disseminate the fraud. One outlet offers the headline, dozens of others then push it out, with the disclaimer “This from Politico says…,” and the narrative then is installed.


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