Right Story, Wrong Headline

This Wall Street Journal story delivers something more interesting than the headline promised.

Interesting headline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today, but one that almost seems like it was pasted on to the wrong story.

The headline promises a firecracker, reading, “Media Sparked Firestorm: As Bush Got Snagged In Bipartisan Criticism.”

Only we don’t get an analysis of the media’s role in the controversy, as the headline implies; instead, what comes below is a thorough, thoughtful piece (sub required) by Greg Hitt and Sarah Ellison, in which the paper offers yet another wrap-up of the gone-to-pot deal between United Arab Emirates company DP World, and British company Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

In short, it’s a sober, fair roundup of the battle surrounding the ports deal and, headline notwithstanding, it deals only in passing with the media’s role therein.

Hitt and Ellison write that on Monday, February 13, CNN’s Lou Dobbs and conservative radio host Michael Savage were both out in front covering the story, and that although the deal had been reported before then, “The broadcasts helped set off a grass-roots brushfire that quickly consumed lawmakers in Washington.”

If by “firestorm,” the paper’s headline writer means that reporters did their job in covering an issue that the American public was concerned about, then sure, guilty as charged. But there seems to be a disconnect between the sexy headline the story is given, and the solid, non-flashy reporting on the issue that you find when actually reading the piece. The article is actually better than most takes on the issue, placing the deal and the public outcry over it into a wider context than many publications have seen fit to. But to dub it a “media” story is a real stretch.

On a related note, we’re happy to report that the Journal has seen fit to correct the record in a way many news organizations so far have not. It notes, correctly, that when that DP World earlier this week purchased British company, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., it acquired the right to run commercial operations at 22 shipping terminals across the country, not just the five American ports that, as “container terminals,” were considered most vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

God, as someone once said, is in the details. (And in the headlines.)

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.