Checkout lines at the local grocery store are the same the world over. Rows of candy, eye-height for a 9-year-old, mark the corridor to the cash register. They share the space with numerous tabloids whose headlines grab the attention of even the most harried and distracted passerby, such as: “Oprah meets Elvis during alien abduction and asks for an Interview.”
As children, we come to know that just the right bit of nudging could get mom to buy us the coveted Snickers while she is dutifully emptying our overflowing cart onto the conveyor belt. As we first master letters and then reading, the colorful headlines capture our imagination. Was Bigfoot really a submarine captain from Nova Scotia, and was Amelia Earhart discovered alive a few years ago as the reigning queen of a secluded Amazonian tribe on an island near Fiji?
We promise to forego the candy if mom will throw one of the magazines into the cart with the Hamburger Helper and mac and cheese. Soon in the car, we open the pages, eager to learn about the secret government plot to put growth hormones into our milk and make us giants equipped to fight the Russian menace. Alas, like many disappointments of our youth, we quickly learn that the headlines often don’t match the content. The “stunning” discoveries are not discoveries at all. Instead, they are carefully worded deceptions intended to tell a lie without really telling one.
Has it changed much through the decades? Media still uses the ploy to get us to look. Seemingly every restaurant and public space is festooned with countless video monitors tirelessly looped with CNN or other outlets. The screen crawls with horrific headlines, unabashedly misleading and provocative. What a front page calls fact, the full article ultimately surrenders to be more nuanced.