Everyone else is talking about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, so we'll do it too. We're going to take a different angle though and discuss journalism ethics. Sorry, no discussion about the facts, or how the prosecution didn't prove its case, or the Sixth Amendment issue in the judge grilling Zimmerman and at one point not allowing him to confer with counsel, or the other Sixth Amendment issue in allowing him to face a charge that was added only at the end and thus he wasn't given the opportunity to defend against. None of that stuff. We're also going to skip the low hanging journalism ethics fruit of discussing how the news media focuses on sensationalism and generally opines on legal matters without one iota of legal expertise.
Instead of all that, we're going for the less sexy topic of how to ethically construct a news headline. In looking through Google News stories, we came across this headline from ABC News:
We'll sidestep the issue that this makes absolutely not sense and should be "George Zimmerman is a murderer who should be convicted of murder." The problem we want to highlight is more subtle than that. It's the placement of the phrase "Prosecutor Says." Compare the original to a different structure:
"Prosecutor Says George Zimmerman Is A 'Liar' Who Should Be Convicted Of Murder."
The former treats the claims about Zimmerman as a fact, with the prosecutor as the source for the claim; the latter reads as reporting the highly biased statement of a prosecutor.
Intelligent minds will read the two statements the same, but as we all know, the majority of Americans aren't that intelligent, and probably won't even read to the end of the first version of the headline. And by "we all know" I mean "including ABC's Seni Tienabeso and Matt Gutman." Maybe Tienabeso and Gutman are just incompetent. Maybe someone else is responsible for the headlines. Or maybe they do think Zimmerman is a liar who should be convicted of murder, but rather than expressing that view on the editorial pages where it belongs, they decided to report their opinions as fact.
And just to make our headline truthful: ABC's Zimmerman trial reporters Tienabeso and Gutman are incompetent, dishonest hack charlatans who should be convicted of murder.