Since Day 1 of this here blog, or soon thereafter, your GetReligionistas have reminded all readers infuriated by headlines that reporters rarely, if ever, get to write these punchy, essential graphic introductions to their stories.
Mad about a headline? Take it to an editor.
But what about Twitter messages that — in an attempt to create heat that inspires online clicks — actually twist or mangle the contents of a news story? Who is to blame, when there is confusion in the cloud of digital media that now surrounds essential, core news stories?
That happened the other day in the wake of the tragic terrorist attack on the famous Christmas marketplace in Strasbourg, France. We will get to the actual story in a second. But first, here is the content of the tweet “from” The New York Times that started a mini-storm on Twitter.
It Remains Unclear What Motivated The Gunman Who Opened Fire At A Christmas Market In Strasbourg, Officials Said, As The Police Continue An Intensive Search For The Attacker
So what is the problem?
Some readers found it strange that there was confusion — at the Times or anywhere else — about the motives of an attacker who shouted “Allahu akbar!” while attempting to commit a massacre in a Christmas market. Many thought that this seemed like a rather strange editorial judgement.
Ah, but what did the actual story say? Did the actual editorial product published by the Gray Lady say what this tweet says that it said?
That brings us to the story under the headline, “France Declares Strasbourg Shooting an Act of Terrorism.” Here is the overture:
STRASBOURG, France — The deadly shooting at a crowded Strasbourg street market was an act of terrorism, officials said …, as hundreds of police officers hunted the fugitive assailant, a man described as a radicalized hometown career criminal.
The gunman killed at least two people and wounded 12 in the … shooting spree at the famous Christmas market in Strasbourg, a city of more than a quarter-million in France’s northeast border with Germany.
Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, who handles terrorism investigations nationwide, said at a news conference in Strasbourg that witnesses had heard the attacker yell “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, and that the targets and the suspect’s profile justified the opening of a terrorism investigation.
Any sign of an editorial statement swooping in from left field? I don’t see anything other than the information provided by witnesses and the conclusion that the attacker’s “profile” justified use of the term “terrorism.”
The location, of course, was quite symbolic. The Times story noted that this was “one of France’s most popular Christmas markets. It opened in 1570 — yes, you read that right — and it now attracts about 2.5 million visitors a year.
So a young man with a complex criminal record attacked a Christmas market, while shouting a phrase often — but not always — used during attacks linked to radicalized forms of Islam.
Motive? Well, that would be simple: Terror.
So what else did the Times team report on this case, in the story linked to that strange tweet? Here is another chunk of important information:
The shooting recalled other attacks in recent years by Islamist extremists in France, Belgium and other parts of Europe. Benjamin Griveaux, the French government spokesman, said after a cabinet meeting in Paris on Wednesday that President Emmanuel Macron had warned that “the terrorist threat is still at the heart of our nation’s life.”
The Strasbourg market has long been in the cross hairs of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, which see it as a symbol of an infidel holiday. In 2000, a cell based in Frankfurt plotted to attack the market, but its communications were intercepted and the plot foiled.
More recently, in fall 2016, a group of men deployed by the Islamic State’s external operations arm in Syria planned to attack the market. French officials penetrated the cell and thwarted the attack, but it prompted the United States State Department to issue a travel alert, warning of credible threats against holiday events in Europe.
Now, what is missing in this Times report?
Well, for starters, it does not contain the word “motive.” It’s a very straightforward news report without a lot of editorial baggage or speculation.
So what’s the point?
Dies the tweet at the top of this story mean that the “Times” said what the tweet in question said?
I honestly don’t know. Who is responsible for the contents of a tweet sent from a newsroom account?
As for me, I am more interested in the contents of the story. Is clickbait the final authority in terms of news? Maybe this is just another sign of the times in which we live.