The New York Times: Mubarak’s Victory Orderly, but Opposition Is Still Angry
The Washington Post: Mubarak Wins Easily, but Vote Fails to Engage Egypt
These headlines make a pretty little show of hinting at the truth, which is that the elections were really a big sham, but they don’t really do it for me. After all, if it’s a sham election, then it may have been a “victory,” but it wasn’t really an electoral victory, as you might suppose from reading the first headline. And saying that the vote “fails to engage Egypt” is a pretty weak way of saying that only 23% of the electorate turned out to vote, and that they voted in oppressive and unfair conditions.
I understand that headline writing is a tricky business and that headline writers can’t fit everything relevant to a story into the headline. And I don’t belong to that school of media criticism which complains whenever journalists present the facts and then leave their readers to draw their own conclusions. Still, the headlines here provide a sort of frame, which help to orient the reader in the story before he or she even begins to read the piece. And the frame both newspapers provide in this case gets the coverage off to a terrible start.
Let’s play the alternative headline game. We’re looking for something that is a) accurate; b) neutral between legitimate disagreements about the issue, if there are any; c) isn’t too heavy-handed, i.e., demonstrates a certain amount of faith in a reader’s ability to draw conclusions for herself. Here are a few: “Mubarak wins deeply flawed election,” “International observers criticize Egyptian vote,” “Anger at flawed vote in Egypt.” Those aren’t great, mainly because they’re perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but they’re better than the headlines quoted above. Note that all would be controversial, in the sense that Egyptian officials wouldn’t like them, but they still get past requirement b), since no sane, disinterested person could fail to draw the conclusion that the vote was deeply flawed.
Howls of outrage (3)