The “Shocking” Story That Wasn’t

The following headline ran this afternoon on an Associated Press story by Deborah Riechmann:

“Laura Bush Says Gay Marriage ‘Shocking.’”

Readers could be forgiven for thinking that Laura Bush is shocked by gay marriages.

But Riechmann disabuses readers of that silly notion in her very first sentence:

“Laura Bush says gay marriages are ‘a very, very shocking issue’ for some people…”[italics added].

So how does the First Lady herself feel about gay marriage?

It isn’t until later that Reichmann lays out that Mrs. Bush “declin[ed] to express her own opinions about gay marriages…”

The AP has since run a different — and more precise — headline with the article: “Mrs. Bush: Gay Marriage Shocking for Some.” Still, the damage has been done, as a number of papers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran the piece under the original headline.

According to AP web editor Rick Somma, lower-level editors let the original headline go out. It was then changed by a senior editor who recognized that the first version was “slightly misleading.” In other words, someone was asleep at the wheel.

(Somma also claimed that the switch was a result of “space requirements”. But there’s almost no difference between the length of the two headlines.)

Just another Wednesday at the AP…

Liz Cox Barrett and Zachary Roth

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.