Unethical Web Headline of the Month: The Huffington Post

This photo has almost nothing to do with the subject of this story.

It wasn’t only HuffPo, to be fair. Every single news website that covered the story used the same misleading, sensational idea in its headline, but The Huffington Post’s version was the worst:

Anthony Stewart, 15-Year-Old From Syracuse, N.Y., Jailed For 7-Cent Robbery

Awww..poor Anthony! And what a mean judge! What did the mischievous tyke do, steal the change from the little bowl by the cash register at the Subway sandwich shop? Knock over a lemonade stand? No, actually, he did this: (From the CBS New website):

“Anthony Stewart was found guilty of first-degree robbery earlier this month for beating and kicking a 73-year-old man and robbing him of seven cents. Prosecutors say the victim was on his way to a store last December when the two teenagers ran up from behind, knocked him into a snow bank, then kicked and punched him. The two teens had handguns, which Stewart later admitted were BB guns, prosecutors said.”

Even though both the victim and Stewart’s partner in crime identified him, Anthony Stewart, unlike his accomplice, refused to plead guilty and insisted on a jury trial. He lost his gamble, and the judge, as judges are wont to do, penalized him for not admitting his guilt. The victim’s other attacker had been sentenced as a youthful offender, meaning the he will have his record sealed and won’t be labeled a felon, though he still will spend up to four years in a state juvenile facility. Stewart, however, didn’t get the youthful offender break, and will come out of prison two to six  years from now with a felony conviction on his permanent record.

“If you admitted like a man, then I would have sentenced you exactly as I did Mr. Ninham,” the judge told Stewart. “But you still denied committing a crime, despite a mountain of evidence.”

Let’s get this straight: the seven cents had nothing to do with the sentence, other than the fact that it changed the crime from a criminal assault to a robbery. I don’t know why these two dummies bothered to steal seven lousy cents, when they found that this was all the old man was carrying. Still, it established that they would have stolen whatever he had, whether it was 7 cents or  $7,000 dollars. Two teenagers, armed with weapons, beat a man and robbed him. It was a brutal attack, and the fact that they only got 7 cents out of it is moral luck and cosmic irony, but it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, make the criminals any more sympathetic.

So why did the Huffington Post (and CBS, and the New York Daily News, and Yahoo, and Newser, and Fox…) use a headline that made it sound like the American Justice system was doing its Kafka imitation, and a photo of the young African-American teen calculated to tug on our heartstrings and make Al Sharpton go bananas?

Because they lie, that’s why. Because they don’t care that lots of people just read their dishonest headlines and never finish the story, and then tell their family and friends about the insane judge who is ruining a boy’s life because he took 7 cents. Because all they care about is web traffic, and the journalistic ideals of factual and objective reporting are so dead, they wouldn’t even make it as zombies.

Even with the facts of the attack revealed (in the HuffPo article, seven paragraphs from the lead), an astounding number of commenters on the various sites took their cues from the headlines, and expressed horror and outrage. It was a white judge—racism must have been behind the sentence! The boy just made a mistake, and what harm did he do—after all, he only took 7 cents! Why should Anthony be penalized for making the system prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?

Fools all…but fools nourished by unscrupulous media like the Huffington Post. Anthony deserves every second of his sentence, and the felony record too. He participated in a violent and armed attack on an elderly man, and if he wanted mercy from the judge, he should have admitted his guilt. That’s the system.

Anthony’s asinine lawyer, who either gave him awful advice or failed miserably by not talking him out of pleading not guilty, fatuously told the judge,  “For 7 cents, now you’re making someone a felon for the rest of his life.”

No, he made himself a felon for the rest of his life, and it wasn’t “for seven cents.”

But don’t worry!  Anthony will be OK. I’m sure the Huffington Post will have a job for him.