The day after the second Presidential Debate, one of CNN's top online headlines was:
Naturally, readers might think this refers to something Barack Obama did or said during last night's debate. That it's possibly a response from a cross-section of undecided voters in a new poll. Or readers might think, having nothing to do with the debate, the headline refers to something Obama has done in the past, or something he may have even done today.
Whatever readers might think, they would have no idea -- unless or until they clicked on it -- that this egregiously misleading headline was actually referring to a new John McCain attack ad.
Specifically, the linked headline took you to CNN's Political Ticker blog, which includes a brief blurb about the ad and three separate links to view it: one takes readers to YouTube, the other two to CNN Video, where, in both cases, the reader has to first sit through a commercial generating ad revenue for CNN before getting to the McCain ad. That's right, the extra bonus here is that CNN is using a McCain attack ad to make money for CNN. (On this particular point, I'm not saying this is unprecedented or that CNN may not have done the same for Obama in the past; I haven't looked into that, so I don't know. I'm just saying it's sleazy. A one-for-one, we'll show you the McCain ad if you sit through our sponsor's ad, thus a news organization directly making money by playing a candidate's campaign ad. Again, I haven't looked into this yet, but this seems a bit shady.)
MEDIABLOODHOUND contacted CNN earlier and, after repeated attempts, reached an online news representative. When I pointed out the terribly misleading headline, the representative first defended it, saying, "But 'not presidential' is in quotes." I explained that has no bearing on what makes it misleading, but rather the fact that there's no identifier in the headline so the reader knows it's referring to a new McCain attack ad. She then told me I would have to speak to someone in "Politics," but when I asked to speak to them now, she said, "No one's in yet because of the debates last night." I responded, "Well, someone has to be there because someone is putting these links up now. These are today's links." She told me I'll have to call back later. When I asked for her name, she refused to tell me, repeating, "You'll have to call back later," and hung up abruptly.
Yes, CNN. The Best Political Team in News.
By the way, if you'd like to contact CNN about this, its general phone number is 404-827-1500. Ask to speak to a live person in the online division or you'll be summarily passed off to a machine. And please, be respectful when making your opinions known.
UPDATE: Right before posting this, I saw that CNN has taken down that headline, replacing it with a new one linking to another Political Ticker post. That headline:
Confirming the irresponsible wording of the original Obama headline and the potentially purposeful bias against the Democratic presidential candidate inherent in it, this McCain headline is graciously -- and correctly -- afforded the signifier "paper says."
The decidedly different treatment? Appalling. I look forward to CNN's correction. But I won't hold my breath.