Over the weekend, CBS News ran an online article with a headline that promptly sparked wide confusion and criticism. The article covered President-elect Donald Trump’s latest Twitter rant, in which he casually charged that “millions of people” voted for Hillary Clinton illegally.
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
Trump failed to provide evidence for that remarkable claim, so I did some digging to find out where it came from. The best I could find was this article from conspiracy theory machine InfoWars, a site that sells “9/11 Was An Inside Job” T-shirts and doomsday survival kits.
CBS News’s original headline for their article, Donald Trump: “Millions” Voted Illegally for Hillary Clinton, triggered a harsh reaction on Twitter…
can you fix your headline? This is an absolute lie & you're contributing to it by not calling him out.
— Fred Sablan (@Fredsablan) November 27, 2016
f'ing seriously CBS? can you at least try to be a serious news organization?
— Rogue P. Bigha?!! (@jeffbigham) November 27, 2016
if you're going to reprint a lie or a baseless claim, indicate you're reprinting a lie or a baseless claim. Do your jobs.
— ?oë “deep thot” ?uinn (@UnburntWitch) November 27, 2016
CBS News corrected their mistake, and reposted the story under a new headline, Donald Trump, Citing No Evidence, Claims “Millions” of People Voted Illegally in the 2016 Election.
This brief debacle highlights some of the unique challenges newsrooms and content producers will encounter as we transition into four to eight years of Trump’s America. First off, headlines matter now more than ever. Media organizations must be mindful that audiences will like, share and draw conclusions from headlines without ever reading the article. The original headline likely misled a number of people to believe that wide-spread election fraud had taken place, even though that claim is currently – and will likely remain – unsubstantiated.
If we learned one thing during Mr. Trump’s historic campaign, it’s that there will be many more Twitter rants and wild accusations during this presidency. News organizations have a responsibility to create fact-based headlines that don’t give life to bogus ideas or statements that originate on fake news sites.