Nominee for '08 worst headline

Several GetReligion readers sent in the same story the other day, primarily to mock the headline.

It's a doozie. But, here's the interesting part. Several different news agencies messed up the headline in precisely the same way. It's both sad and amazing.

Thus, we want to know if anyone out there (the truth is out there) saw this story with a good, solid, accurate, headline.

Let's look at two cases, starting with the venerable BBC. The headline read: "Vatican says aliens could exist." Now, contrast that with the story content, which begins.

The Pope's chief astronomer says that life on Mars cannot be ruled out.

Writing in the Vatican newspaper, the astronomer, Father Gabriel Funes, said intelligent beings created by God could exist in outer space. Father Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory near Rome, is a respected scientist who collaborates with universities around the world.

The search for forms of extraterrestrial life, he says, does not contradict belief in God. ... Just as there are multiple forms of life on earth, so there could exist intelligent beings in outer space created by God. And some aliens could even be free from original sin, he speculates.

Once again, the story is not the problem. It's the headline.

When you read the words "Vatican says," the assumption is that you are doing to be dealing with content that actually comes from the pope or from a branch of the Vatican that speaks with authority on a particular doctrine. There is a huge difference between "Vatican says" and "Vatican scientist says" or even "a Vatican official says."

Now here is a variation on the same theme, atop a story by Godbeat pro Eric Gorski of the Associated Press. This story, as carried in the Chicago Tribune, begins:

Believing that the universe may contain alien life does not contradict a faith in God, the Vatican's chief astronomer said. ...

The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

"How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Funes said. "Just as we consider earthly creatures as 'a brother,' and 'sister,' why should we not talk about an 'extraterrestrial brother'? It would still be part of creation."

Once again, there is nothing there to get upset about.

But the headline? Believe it or not, the headline said: "Vatican: It's OK to Believe in Aliens."

Same problem. It's hard to believe that major news organizations made the same technical error.

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