Democracy Now! led with that headline on November 25, 2009. It was a variant of the Washington Post’s “Fewer Americans believe in global warming, poll shows.”
As written, some people might assume that that less Americans believe in global warming as compared to those who do not believe in global warming.
The Christian Science Monitor reporting the same polling data led with this headline: “Global warming: 72 percent of Americans say it’s real, poll finds.”
Does this give you a different picture of the polling results? Which headline do you think is a more accurate portrayal of the data results?
Headlines may reflect possible spin—a way to tell the story in a way to meet a particular policy agenda. Sometimes, however, the media is trying to grab our attention. Other times the headline gets distorted when the English language is crammed into a soundbite. The first two stories wanted to make the apparent decline in global warming belief the story although readers would not know that unless they read the story. The Washington Post’s lead paragraph was:
“The percentage of Americans who believe global warming is happening has dipped from 80 to 72 percent in the past year, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, even as a majority still support a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions.”
They are trying to make this a story with some drama and mystery—but if 72% of the people believe that global warming is happening, then it should be no surprise that a majority would favor a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions (assuming they believe that the gas emissions are a contributing factor in global warming).
What are the key questions sophisticated users should be asking?