This morning I woke up to a New York Times headline, “Warren Laces Into Rivals as Iowa Campaign Grows Combative.” That headline painted a picture of a candidate who was on the attack during a major political event in Iowa.
The fourth paragraph painted a different picture about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s night. It read, “Befitting her front-runner status, Ms. Warren was the target of heated attacks from three of the first five speakers on the stage.”
So what’s the real story? Is it that Warren laced into her rivals, or that her rivals launched heated attacks? The truth may be both. But the framing mattered a great deal.
A headline that read, “Frontrunner Warren faces heated attacks from rivals” would have given readers a much different impression of what happened on stage. And it might have given readers a different impression of Warren herself, not to mention the state of the Democratic primary.
This is why editorial choices—even the small ones—matter a great deal.
The New York Times headline feeds into the negative perceptions of strong female candidates—that they can be nasty, petty, and emotional. In my opinion it revealed something about the headline editor’s worldview.
My unflattering interpretation is reinforced by the subhead: “Ms. Warren said ‘complacency does not win elections,’ as she pushed for big changes, while moderates like Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden vowed they could unite the country.” The Times presents Buttigieg and Biden as uniters. Warren? The political assailant. The extremist.
The choices we make every day as communicators matter. How we choose to frame stories communicates as much as the words we use while telling them.
There’s always a story that appears on the surface, as well as a story hidden below. Both speak equally loud if we listen.
It’s something we should all remember when we communicate. What are we actually saying—and what is our framing, word choice, and tone also communicating?
Oh, and Times editors? Do better.