In the wake of the brutal assault on Paul Pelosi during the attempted kidnapping of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on October 28, media critics and readers alike have expressed their discontent with the New York Times’ immediate coverage of the attack, which seemed to downplay the significance of an attempt on the Speaker of the House’s life.
On the morning of October 29, the Times’ front page featured a ‘below the fold’ placement of the attack. It described the assault merely as a “hammer attack by an intruder” and not as an attempt by a right-wing extremist to kidnap and possibly even assassinate the Speaker of The House, the person third in line to the presidency.
An assassination attempt on the speaker of the house and my beloved hometown paper @nytimes doesn't put the story front page above the fold?
— steven pasquale (@StevePasquale) October 30, 2022
In an opinion piece , political blogger Oliver Willis stressed the duty of the New York Times specifically in ensuring its reporting is incisive and accurate.
“The Times sets the agenda and tone for much of the rest of the media, prioritizing and highlighting ideas, people, and storylines in a way that is echoed over and over again in one form or another.” Willis emphasized the influence and far reach of the Times. “To compare it to the person who starts the transmission of an infection in a pandemic, the Times is patient zero.”
It is also well-known that in this age of social media, most people simply skim headlines rather than read entire stories. In an article in the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova wrote, “By drawing attention to certain details or facts, a headline can affect what existing knowledge is activated in your head. By its choice of phrasing, a headline can influence your mindset as you read so that you later recall details that coincide with what you were expecting.”
Thus, it is imperative that widely read media outlets, such as the New York Times, produce headlines that adequately reflect the story they’re reporting. Journalists have responsibility to adapt news to how readers consume it.