It’s Fake Headline Day in Conservative Punditry

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Dewey Defeats Truman Newspaper
Harry Truman, original master of the fake headline troll.Photo: Underwood Archives/©Underwood Archives

The old fake headline ploy. It’s a classic trick most closely associated with college campus flyers. (Headline: “Sex!” Text: “Now that we have your attention … ”) But the fake headline trick can also be used for things like hackish right-wing op-ed columns in national publications, which operate along pretty much the same intellectual standards.

Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial has a shocking fake headline:

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Wow! But then the editorial informs the readers that it’s a joke. (“Well, okay, our headline goes too far. But the claim is about as plausible as Rand Paul’s outburst that Republican internationalists like Lindsey Graham and John McCain are responsible for the rise of the Islamic State.”)

Also today, National Review editor Rich Lowry has a shocking headline on his Politico column:

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But then Lowry takes it right back:

BlackLivesMatter, the slogan of the movement that began in earnest after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is a lie.

Taken at face value, the phrase is a truism, since obviously all lives matter. But the people who use it as a shibboleth don’t care about black lives per se so much as scoring points against the police.

Lie, truism — whatever.

Lowry’s point is that black activists don’t really care about black lives because What About Black-on-Black Crime. (The notion that social activists would be more concerned about state-sanctioned abuses of power than a non-state social epidemic is apparently confusing to a writer who finds it perfectly easy to understand why conservatives would be more concerned with government attempts to control weapons than the epidemic of accidental shootings.)

Oversimplified headlines are pretty much unavoidable, since the full nuance of a report or argument is almost by definition impossible to summarize in a handful of words. The headline is completely inaccurate. But the meta-message it sends to readers — you are about to read a wildly oversimplified polemic that will insult your intelligence — is, ironically, perfectly accurate.