When headlines attack

Donald Trump Greets Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih

The New York Times media reporter David Carr had a fun piece this week about how headlines have changed in the internet age.

Headlines in newspapers and magazines were once written with readers in mind, to be clever or catchy or evocative. Now headlines are just there to get the search engines to notice.

I don't know what the excuse is for the headline that ran on this piece on CNN.com earlier this week:

Miss USA: Muslim trailblazer or spy?

So, is CNN a legitimate news source? Or is it simply a provider of unnecessary and inflammatory rhetorical questions? Sometimes I think copyeditors forget that readers don't interpret headlines the same way as folks in the newsroom do. I'm sure that the headline writer was simply trying to show the range of opinion out there about our hot new Miss USA. But that's not how it's interpreted.

And it's not just about the headline:

As soon as the announcement was made, the labels appeared. She was described as Arab-American, Lebanese-American, Muslim-American. She became the center of controversy overnight after pole dancing photos surfaced and spread across the globe just as fast as an outlandish rumor started by a U.S. neo-conservative blog that she's a spy for the Shiite Lebanese group Hezbollah, designated by the U.S. and E.U. countries as a terrorist group.

It's hard to gauge which claim could possibly hurt the new Miss USA more: the racy pictures or the unfounded rumors alleging she is affiliated with Hezbollah. One thing is certain, the Internet feasted on the story and different groups with different agendas jumped on the opportunity this story afforded them.

"To say that she is a Muslim is inaccurate. No Muslim woman can call herself a . . . Muslim and be on stage with her bikini," Ghazal Omid, a Muslim scholar, posted on her Facebook page.

Whether the fevered speculations of random bloggers should be given such status is another question altogether. Scanning random blogs and social networks for incendiary speculative comments has to be one of the lazier ways to compile a story.

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