Entry For “Unethical Headline Of The Year”: Mother Jones


The real “Mother Jones”

A headline is a declarative statement, and ethical headlines are factual—not teases, not bait and switches, not lies, not deceit, but factual. Misleading headlines have become increasingly common on the web (click-bait, you know), and if this one from Mother Jones is any indication, the election season is going to be ugly as well as confusing.

The headline is “Republicans Hate Planned Parenthood but Want to Put One of Its Backers on the $10 Bill,” and it is quite an achievement: almost every word is a lie or intentionally misleading.

Let’s begin with “Republicans,” who, according to the headline, both “hate” Planned Parenthood and “want” to put a Planned Parenthood “backer” on the ten. “Republicans” implies all Republicans. Do all Republicans “hate” Planned Parenthood? Gee, I am married to a Republican who served on the board of the local  organization affiliate. There are many Republicans who oppose one of Planned Parenthood’s signature activities, abortion, but that does not mean all Republicans hate Planned Parenthood. Many headline writers, including the one that wrote this one, are lying, manipulative partisan hacks, but a headline that said, “Headline Writers Are Lying, Manipulative Partisan Hacks” would be unfair and misleading.

As for the second part of the sentence, which states Republicans want to put one of Planned Parenthood’s “backers” on the ten dollar bill, it is even more inaccurate regarding Republicans. The article under the headline refers only to the CNN candidate’s debate, and only to three of the eleven Republicans on the stage. Since eight of the Republicans did NOT choose to place the “backer’s” face on the ten, using the article’s own deceitful employment of the term “Republicans,” the article could also be titled “Republicans Hate Planned Parenthood And Don’t Want to Put One of Its Backers on the $10 Bill.” That, of course, wouldn’t convey the impression that Republicans have no integrity, are hypocritical and ignorant, which was really the purpose of the headline and the article. A headline, however, that is less accurate than the opposite of the headline is a really misleading headline. Res ipsa loquitor! Fairer and more honest still would have been a version of the headline that read “Three Republicans Want to Put One of Planned Parenthood’s Backers On The $10 Bill,” but even that would be misleading.

Oh, I’ve just gotten started, for this is some terrible headline.

Do Republicans, even the ones who want to defund Planned Parenthood, hate the organization? Prove it. Many in the party oppose one of Planned Parenthood’s primary services, abortion, but that does not require hating the entire organization or suggest it. Nor does believing that if Planned Parenthood is so popular and vital, it should be able to exist without federal funding. I like a lot of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting’s work, but I think it’s inexcusable for it to be publicly funded, and would support an effort in Congress to defund it. Does that mean I hate NPR and PBS, both of whom have had me as a guest on their shows? No.

“Hate” is a manipulative word used by advocates to dishonestly suggest that opposition to a position is emotional rather than rational. The opinion of a “hater” can be devalued without addressing the substantive arguments, because hate is bad, so someone who hates anything shouldn’t be respected.  Using “hate” in a factual statement mandates proof: have even one of the three Republicans who this slimy headline actually refers to as representing all Republicans ever stated that he “hates” Planned Parenthood? I can’t find such a statement.

Now let us move on to “want,” shall we?

Do we have evidence that any Republicans, not to mention most Americans generally, want to put anyone other than Alexander Hamilton, whose visage is there now, on the ten dollar bill? We certainly don’t have it on the basis of last week’s debate, which is the sole inspiration for the story and its dishonest headline. The candidates were not asked who they wanted on the ten, but rather, given the Obama Administration’s pandering decree that a woman will replace Hamilton on the ten-spot (next up: an illegal Hispanic immigrant on the one, an African-American on the two, and Dan Savage or Andrew Sullivan on the five, and a Muslim on the twenty), which woman, if it has to be a woman, would they prefer. They were ambushed with the question; I doubt any  of them had given it any thought, and they had no time to weigh the options. Thus we had silly answers like Margaret Thatcher, Mike Huckabee’s wife, and Mother Theresa. Again, by the logic of this idiotic headline, it could have read, “Republicans Want to Put Mother Theresa and Mike Huckabee’s Wife On The $10 Bill.”

Anyone who wants to take Hamilton off the ten dollar bill is a historical ignoramus, and anyone who thinks there is a single woman alive or dead as qualified to grace a bill is a sexist and an anti-male bigot. In fact, Hamilton is by far the most appropriate of all the faces on the greenbacks: he was the first Secretary of the Treasury. As for the rest: Washington already has a coin; so do Jefferson and Lincoln. These men are double-dipping. Grant deserves the honor as a general, but he’s there as a President, and putting Jackson, who eliminated the Bank of The United States and really did hate financial institutions on the twenty would have annoyed even him. Ben Franklin goes anywhere, but  what’s his connection to money? The only ones who want to remove Hamilton for any woman are Democrats and progressives.

Now on to the last part of the headline, the worst of all. The “backer” of Planned Parenthood that the headline, purely as link-bait, declines to name is Rosa Parks, whom Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump—after first suggesting his daughter–picked on the spur of the moment. Rosa Parks was a supporter of Planned Parenthood, but no “backer.” Backer means a person, institution, or country that supports something, especially financially. Rosa was not a philanthropist; she gave with her sweat, courage and heart, not from her pocketbook. Why did Mother Jones use the misleading and inaccurate word “backer” rather than the fair description “supporter”? That’s easy: it was intended to show hypocrisy. Cruz wants to take away Planned Parenthood’s primary backer, the U.S. government, yet he and other Republicans want to honor another backer! Except that Parks wasn’t a backer: is anything in this headline direct and honest?

Why no, since you ask! The most misleading aspect of  the headline is that it takes a feature of Rosa Parks’ life that has nothing whatsoever to do with why anyone supports her as a face on a bill, and falsely (and nonsensically) suggests that this is the reason why the “Republicans,” all three of them, selected her. Any honor bestowed on Parks is based on her civil rights activities, not what boards she sat on. Saying that “Republicans” support a “Planned Parenthood backer” to replace Hamilton on the ten dollar bill is like saying that Republicans supported naming Washington National Airport after a B-movie actor. It is like saying that Congress wanted to put a man who raped his slaves on the nickle, another who ignored free speech and freedom of the press during the Civil War on the penny, and a neglectful father on the hundred dollar bill. It is like saying that Martin Luther King Day honors an adulterer.

While we are on the subject of hypocrisy, however, I give you “Mother Jones.” The real “Mother Jones,” Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930), was a courageous and trail-blazing labor leader. She is far better qualified to be on the ten than most of the candidates put forth so far (Patsy Mink? Geraldine Ferraro?) and I haven’t heard or read her name being raised by anyone, including the publication that appropriated her name.

Shouldn’t “Mother Jones” be promoting this heroic woman rather than defiling her name with shoddy journalism?

8 thoughts on “Entry For “Unethical Headline Of The Year”: Mother Jones

  1. I can’t believe our President has actually used the awful phrase “haters gotta hate,” but he has. This is the most condescending, stupid thing a fifteen year old could say and President Obama says it, as President. The left’s misuse of “hate” is ubiquitous and annoying. It’s used to make anyone who strongly disagrees with any position the left takes appear to be a crazy, mindless fanatic. And it seems to be a very persuasive technique. And isn’t it from a Nike campaign for soccer boots? Pathetic. Next our President will be saying “Just Do it.” Great.

    • The denotation “hater” was popularized in the 90’s by the rapper Puff Daddy, as a way to dismiss his critics, who were correctly pointing out that his talents as a rapper were far inferior to most other artists in the genre with his level of success. So yeah, it’s pretty appropriate for this president to use.

      • Interesting. Did not know that. Maybe once our current President is retired, he can get an endorsement deal with a champagne brand.

  2. Ben Franklin goes anywhere, but what’s his connection to money?

    I have heard that, during the American War of Independence when the rebels were busily printing money that was being even further depreciated by widespread counterfeiting, Franklin proposed some anti-counterfeiting measures, e.g. impressing a leaf into the plates as its vein patterns would be unique and thus hard to imitate.

    • You know, as I wrote that, I also thought: “On the other hand, Ben was involved in everything. He couldn’t help himself.” Your note isn’t a surprise, but it’s welcome. What an amazing human being Franklin was.

  3. “A headline is a declarative statement, and ethical headlines are factual—not teases, not bait and switches, not lies, not deceit, but factual.”

    I agree with that definition. I agree with the ethical basis of writing headlines according to that definition. But that’s a definition that obviously has been replaced, with great gusto, by one or more very different definitions.

    For example, one (not I) might use the following headline for the preceding paragraph:

  4. Jack: “an illegal Hispanic immigrant on the one, an African-American on the two, and Dan Savage or Andrew Sullivan on the five, and a Muslim on the twenty.”

    Sure, Jack, assign the black man to the $2 bill, the Ghetto of American Currency.



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