Monday, October 08, 2007

ProJo: Malice or Stupidity?

There's a famous quote with unknown origins that says something like "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." That quote has come to mind a few times recently when looking at the Providence Journal.

On 29 September, the ProJo ran an article about same-sex couples living in Rhode Island who got legally married in Massachusetts. The article reports that there are more than 200 such couples in legal same-sex marriages in the state. Okay. But the headline says R.I. home to 200 same-sex couples. As in, 200 same-sex couples, married or not. Big difference there, particularly since a study to which the article refers (PDF) notes that there are more than 2400 same-sex couples in Rhode Island. So the headline, which is all that many people will read, misstates the correct number by a factor of twelve. I know from dealings with reporters over the years that generally they do not write their headlines--the editors do. I am fairly certain that Scott MacKay would not make such a big mistake, so clearly the mistaken (or at least incorrect) headline comes from a careless (?) editor.

Then we come to 7 October. A letter to the editor from Tucker Lieberman (disclosure: I know him slightly) explains that, contrary to the overblown, nasty rhetoric in a recent op-ed, transgendered people have been protected by civil rights law in Rhode Island since 2001, and the sky has not come anywhere close to falling. A good letter, but what does our headline writer use to label it? Time for R.I. to protect the transgendered. So apparently the headline writer only barely skimmed the letter before writing the headline. Lieberman's clear point is that RI already protects transgendered people.

Yes, the most likely explanation is stupidity. But given that it is apparently the same set of editors who choose to publish such nasty, deceptive op-eds on LGBT issues in the first place, one does wonder if malice is also involved.