Yes, we read the stories

March 25, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

It's usually considered bad form for journalists to argue with readers who write letters to the editor. We have our say in print and online, and it's only right to let the readers have their say. But I would like to say just a few things about this letter from Marie Mullen of Joppa, recently posted at baltimoresun.com:

What a headline: "Aide's gaffe dogs Romney" (March 22). Do the headline writers read the articles first or do they just skim them until they find a "gotcha" phrase?

I watched two different Baltimore TV channels' coverage of Mr. Romney's visit and nothing was mentioned about the so-called "gaffe." Yet The Sun had to create something negative and eye-catching, and it chose to run with this on page 1.

I wrote that headline. I can assure Ms. Mullen that I read the article, all the way through and more than once.

The visit of a presidential candidate, particularly a Republican one, to Maryland is itself newsy enough to warrant space on the front page, but Mr. Romney's visit occurred in a larger context. A Romney campaign official had compared the candidate's shift from the primary campaign to the general election campaign to an Etch-A-Sketch: "You can kind of shake it up, and we start over again."

This careless remark became a matter of moment in the national campaign, with Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum brandishing Etch-A-Sketches and claiming that the aide's remark confirmed that Mr. Romney has no real core conservative convictions. While local television newscasts in Baltimore may not have given any time to the Etch-A-Sketch comment, it was covered widely in newspapers, national news broadcasts, and online news sites.

Moreover, anyone who read beyond the headline to see what was in the article would have discovered that it quoted Mr. Romney's response: that he is in fact conservative and that his aide was referring to the different strategies in the different phases of the campaign, not to different convictions.

So the article covered Mr. Romney's local appearance, quoted him, quoted Governor Ehrlich and another Romney supported who attended the event, and placed the appearance in the context of the events of the national campaign. The main headline reflected the main element of the day in Mr. Romney's national campaign, and the secondary headline informed readers of his stop in Arbutus.

I will leave it to the judgment of The Sun's readers overall whether the article and the headlines were adequate and appropriate.

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