Wednesday, January 18, 2017


You have to admit that "Trump's lust for respect makes national unity implausible" is a pretty good headline if you're looking to attract a left-leaning crowd to read an opinion piece. And it delivers - sort of. One of its closing lines is as follows:
The presidency, normally a job for people with thick skins and a nose for insincere flattery, promises to only heighten Trump’s sense of entitlement to respect and exacerbate his inevitable resentment when he doesn’t receive it.
But headlines can be deceptive - or they can be changed. When I encountered Mr. Goldberg's opinion piece on my phone, the title was just as I spelled it out above, "Trump's lust for respect makes national unity implausible." I read it, and found the headline to be somewhat misleading, honestly. The article is just as much about Representative John Lewis, and his partisan response to the President-elect, if not more, than it is about Donald Trump.

When I made it home, and looked up the article online, I quickly found it, but with a different title: "Why National Unity Remains So Elusive." It was posted on the National Review, and it came with an interesting, and descriptive subtitle: "The presidency has become the biggest prize in the culture war, and that doesn’t lead to unity." And the page description reads as follows: "Donald Trump and John Lewis: Culture Wars Deepen Party Polarization."

I'm not sure whose idea it was to market the piece with a different headline. Maybe the National Review protects theirs and doesn't allow them to be reprinted, and so Tribune Content Agency, LLC, which appears in the copyright notice for the piece, decided to write their own headline. But given that if an editor started at the beginning of the piece, they'd have to read more or less all the way through it to get to the part where Mr. Goldberg criticizes Donald Trump's sense of entitlement to respect, it seems unusual that they would have missed the equal-opportunity criticism that Mr. Goldberg levels. (But now I'm curious - is there a separate headline that excoriates Representative Lewis making the rounds on right-wing media sites?)

Although, given the overall tenor of the column, left-leaning readers looking for a full-throated takedown of the President-elect are likely to be disappointed. While the piece does have some things to say about the soon-to-be occupant of the White House, it's Representative Lewis who comes in for most of Mr. Goldberg's disapproval. Although the article quickly gets to the point that: "Trump will be the third president in a row to promise to unite the country, and he will almost certainly be the third in a row to fail," which I think is undoubtedly accurate, and it will be worth sticking around to see if that turns out to be at all consequential. (After all George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama were the first two in a row to promise unity and fail, and the place hasn't burned down yet.)

In the end, I guess, it's a simple reminder to remember that columnists and authors rarely write the headlines that accompany their pieces. And the people who do may have their own motivations.

No comments: