Headline Headache

September 17th, 2009 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Tracy Dingmann

Sometimes bias or inaccuracy in a newspaper story or headline is obvious to all readers. But other times, readers have to possess inside knowledge of the story to know what’s being presented to them is neither accurate nor fair.

A recent Journal story about the disposition of a local group’s suit against New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department provides a perfect example.

The Sept. 9 story “ACLU Drops Suit on Juvenile Jails” details the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico’s alleged agreement to “drop” a lawsuit that claimed the state was not living up to a 2006 agreement to improve conditions in juvenile jails.  The story notes that the disposition of the case follows nearly two-years of wrangling between the ACLU and CYFD.

In a subsequent Sept. 12 editorial, “Unnecessary Legal Fight Costs Taxpayers,” Journal editors take the state to task for dragging its heels in living up to its agreement with the ACLU to improve the jails, while repeating the assertion that the ACLU “dropped” the suit.

But ACLU-NM executive director Peter Simonson says the original story’s headline is “inaccurate” because the ACLU didn’t drop the suit, it settled it – and only after it got the state to agree to sign a new agreement to improve conditions for teens held in state facilities.

“The headline of the story, “ACLU Drops Suit on Juvenile Jails,” is inaccurate and gives readers the false impression that the ACLU surrendered without obtaining any reforms in CYFD facilities,” Simonson told me. “The accurate headline would have read “ACLU, CYFD Settle Suit on Juvenile Jails.”

“The lawsuit was dismissed as a necessary condition of a settlement agreement – one that we believe is a `win’ for youth in CYFD facilities around the state. Put another way, the lawsuit could not have been dismissed without CYFD agreeing first to improve conditions in the facilities.”

Saying the ACLU dropped the suit instead of making clear that it settled it for important reforms is not fair to the ACLU, and it’s not fair to the average reader of the Journal who doesn’t know the back story.

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