The NYT’s Too-Polite Headlines

What’s up with the milquetoast headline writers at The New York Times? Two weeks ago, when reporters Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes bluntly stated that claims of government-sponsored “death panels” were false, their story was accompanied in print by the mild-mannered headline “Getting to the Source of the ‘Death Panel’ Rumor.” (On the Web, it was the much stronger “False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots.”)

Today, Rutenberg returns to similar ground, straightforwardly and admirably refuting unfounded criticisms of bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and a health care adviser to the president. Rutenberg’s second graf:

Largely quoting his past writings out of context this summer, Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, labeled Dr. Emanuel a “deadly doctor” who believes health care should be “reserved for the nondisabled” — a false assertion that Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, repeated on the House floor.

The rest of Rutenberg’s piece proves his point. In the well-mannered pages of the Times, this is as close as you can come to calling someone a liar. But the story runs under the anodyne headline, “In Health Care Debate, Bioethicist Becomes a Lightning Rod for Criticism.” (The Web version is identical, minus the opening phrase.)

That’s simply not the best summary of the story. Plus, it’s boring. Maybe the Times could pick up some pointers from some of the other papers in New York?

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.