Madison’s most prominent journalist and author, David Maraniss, didn’t like the top headline on the front page of Tuesday’s State Journal.
“I spent my childhood despising the Wisconsin State Journal, then Madison’s reactionary morning paper that supported Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare,” Maraniss wrote on his Facebook page. “In recent years my antipathy dissipated. But this morning, with this unwittingly ridiculous headline playing into Trump’s hands, all of those old feelings returned. Whoever wrote this headline and allowed it to stand should be ashamed.”
Maraniss’ criticism drew lots of attention on social media, and several readers called or emailed to complain.
The three-word headline in the printed version of our newspaper read: “President wants apologies.”
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The headline didn’t provide much context. But the 700-word article by a team of Associated Press reporters in Washington certainly did. The article explained that Trump was receiving “searing criticism” for telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their “broken and crime infested” countries — even though all four are American citizens, and only one wasn’t born here.
Trump’s tweets were racist and, sadly, more of the same from this chaotic, crude and incompetent commander in chief who never should have been elected president. But that’s just our opinion, over here on the editorial page of the newspaper, where our editorial board weighs into lots of issues affecting Madison, Wisconsin and the world. (And while we’re at it, we harpooned our 1952 endorsement of Joe McCarthy last year, calling it the newspaper’s “worst of all time,” though we did get at least one endorsement right over the last 180 years: Abraham Lincoln.)
The headline Maraniss disliked was prominent news coverage that accurately reported a fact: “President wants apologies.” Trump did say he wanted apologies. His boorish reaction dominated the news cycle Monday. In his nauseating way, Trump tried to turn his latest embarrassing and offensive comments into somebody else’s fault — specifically, the very people he attacked. His ego-driven reaction was absurd, bigoted and irresponsible.
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But again, that’s the opinion of our editorial board, whose views we strictly separate from our news coverage. Our professional journalists who cover the news go to great lengths to avoid offering even the appearance of opinion. They write headlines and articles to tell readers the facts of what is happening and, in this case, what the leader of the free world was saying.
The headline could have been better. Perhaps the version on our website is best: “Trump digs in on racist tweets: ‘Many people agree with me.’” But our copy editors work on deadline at night, and don’t have as much space in print.
So with all due respect to Maraniss — and he definitely has ours — we don’t think the short headline “played into Trump” or deserves “shame.” This was a second-day news story, with Trump’s response the latest development. Piling onto the press for writing a three-word headline on deadline only feeds into Trump’s narrative that the media is full of “fake news” and shouldn’t be trusted.
Unlike the talking heads on cable TV — where news and opinion seem to constantly blend together — we draw hard lines between our news coverage and our opinion desk.
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You can trust the journalism in the State Journal from our news reporters. And by all means, you can disagree with the opinions of our editorial board near the back of the printed newspaper.
Just don’t confuse the two.