Who Got the Comey Headline Right?

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Here’s a question for you all to ponder. Last night I took snapshots of four newspapers after FBI director James Comey announced that the emails they had reviewed on Anthony Wiener’s computer didn’t show anything new. Here are the four headlines:

At the top left, the LA Times says the FBI has “cleared” Hillary Clinton. On the bottom left, the New York Times declines to say Clinton has been cleared, only that the new emails “don’t warrant action” against Clinton. Finally, on the right, we have the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. They use pretty loaded language, saying there are no grounds for “charges” against Clinton.

Who got it right? My take is that the word “charge” is inherently negative. It leaves readers with the impression that Clinton might be guilty after all, but has somehow managed to skate by. Given what we now know—that Clinton was careless but did nothing seriously wrong—it strikes me as putting a big thumb on the scale. If you’re going to use legalistic language, why not follow the lead of the LA Times and say that Clinton has been “cleared”? That’s what happened, after all, and it better gets the point across that this was basically good news for Clinton.

The New York Times is somewhere in between. Perhaps someone less partisan than me would find it the best compromise. For my part, I think the LA Times got it right, while the Journal and the Post screwed up. There’s nothing technically wrong with their headlines, but they leave a groundlessly sordid impression.

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And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

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