Wednesday morning, the Twitter account of Donald Trump supporter and former New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino made a mistake for the ages.
That tweet was of course quickly deleted and replaced with another that simply said “@LorettaLynch let a Grand Jury decide.”
@LorettaLynch let a Grand Jury decide.
— Carl Paladino (@CarlPaladino) July 6, 2016
Now I would think that what happened is obvious; Paladino intended to tweet the second message, “Loretta Lynch, let a grand jury decide,” but the formatting and word order got messed up in the process. Those of us who tweet prolifically can tell you that these things happen all the time, and weirder mistakes have been made by smarter men. As it happens, Lynch’s name is also a verb with horrible connotations and the screw-up was more unfortunate than your usual tagging error.
The alternative explanation is rather silly: Paladino willfully decided to tweet a call for the white supremacist-style murder of a black Attorney General… only to delete it almost immediately? Who makes public, disgustingly racist comments on social media, only to see the error of their ways minutes later?
Paladino’s spokesperson soon confirmed that it was all just a misunderstanding. “I made a mistake of adding ‘Lynch’ in the beginning. Sorry, no story here. I just tweeted by mistake,” she told the Daily Beast. So that was that, until CNN began to cover the story, under this headline.
It’s worth noting that the body of the piece presents Paladino’s explanation and even apparently takes his side: “The Buffalo businessman seemed to be making the case that a grand jury should make the final call,” CNN writes. But yet, the headline goes with the highly, highly misleading angle that his tweet “appeared” to call for a lynching.
Allow me to explain: whenever a headline uses the term “appears,” it’s because the reporter wants to report on something fairly obvious that nonetheless lacks official confirmation. For example, Mediaite reported recently that “State Department Appears to Edit Briefing Video to Remove Admission of Falsehood,” because while it was extremely obvious that’s what had happened, the State Department itself didn’t confirm the edit until months later.
Readers are used to this by now. So when your average reader sees a headline that says “Trump supporter tweet appears to call for lynching of Loretta Lynch,” they tend to read that to mean that a Trump supporter’s tweet actually did call for the lynching of Loretta Lynch and the reporter is just being cautious. Virtually no one would read that CNN headline to mean that Paladino’s tweet was inadvertent and could be mistaken as a call for a lynching.
It isn’t difficult to conceive of a headline that simultaneously gets across the two major points: the appearance of the call to lynch, and the fact that it was an error: “Trump supporter’s tweet accidentally calls for lynching of Loretta Lynch,” “Oops: Trump supporter mistakenly appears to call for lynching of Loretta Lynch,” “Trump supporter clarifies controversial Loretta Lynch tweet wasn’t about lynching.” Why CNN went with an intentionally vague headline that can be read to incorrectly smear a man as racist is beyond me, and it deserves a prompt correction.
[Image via screengrab]
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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.