This could be a totally misleading headline. Please read the entire post.

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In my post about the Newsweek cover proclaiming President Obama "the first gay president," I wrote, "It's always a good idea to follow links and not take headlines at face value." I did that because I got so many ruffled-feathery tweets replying to the title as if it meant, "Oh, so now they're calling our president gay! WTF?" It didn't mean that at all.

I can't count the times I've posted links to TPC on Twitter and Facebook and gotten responses from readers who only read the headline and then commented on what they assumed the post was about. I then spend time I don't have explaining, correcting, soothing, or redirecting right back to the post.

Blog titles and headlines are often misleading, sometimes intentionally.

Speaking for myself, when it comes to what goes at the top of a blog post, I'll occasionally try to be clever, or I'll put up a significant quote by somebody else, or a simple, straightforward one, or, due to a lack of space, only a partial headline. I mistakenly presume that people will link over to see what we've taken the time, effort, and even thought (I know, right?) to write, including further explanation of a premise, pertinent information, commentary, snark, quotes from original articles, visuals, videos, and links to other sites that go into more detail.

Instead, people often base their opinions on one sentence, one that may not even represent what's in the body of the post. At all. Or maybe a little bit. Or maybe a lot, but there's still much more information than one measly line will telegraph.

So, to repeat myself, and to state the obvious, it's always a good idea to follow links and not take headlines at face value.

Please click over and read what we took the time to write first, because it could save you from getting really ticked off, or even celebrating or fuming prematurely. Assumptions can be dangerous things; misplaced blame, fear, anger, elation, offense, disappointment, schadenfreude, triumph, hope-- you name it-- can be avoided by following a link and fully understanding what you're responding to before jumping to conclusions.

Thanks for reading this.

Erm, you DID read this, didn't you?

UPDATE: In no way do we condone intentionally misleading headlines. We try to avoid those, but headlines can be vague or misleading by their very nature. They have to be short, concise, and fit into a given amount of space (especially on Twitter). So while it's fun to play with words, and it's not always easy to get a short message out, let's be clear: We do not try to trick our readers.

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  • http://twitter.com/Graypets Steph

    Reminds me of the exercise we did in 4th grade. Teacher handed out a long list of things to do, some of them bizarre. The first item on the list was "Read the whole list before doing anything." The last item on the list was "Do not do any of the things on this list". Amazing how many people did every single thing on the list, got to the end, and were horribly embarrassed because they obviously didn't follow directions.

  • http://twitter.com/BurgersBytes Ted Weissgerber

    Why else would you make a headline about the President like that? To get attention, so ENJOY!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1520873501 Jack Boardman

    What the HAIL is this post about, anyways? I thought it was about facial expressions...you know "misleading head lines."

  • http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/ GottaLaff

    Thanks David. : )

    Again, though, the post wasn't about misleading headlines, it was about people not reading past them.

    I added the part about misleading titles because of tweets I was getting implying that maybe titles should be changed. But that's not relevant to my premise about readers not bothering to read posts based on headlines alone.

  • http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/ GottaLaff

    Headlines can have all kinds of meanings and intentions. The point isn't about headlines. The point is that readers don't bother to read what comes next and make assumptions.

  • David G.

    Headlines are a tease.  They're intentionally provocative so that someone will read and hopefully discover "meat" of the issue with a balanced article.  I personally love a witty, clever and thought inducing headline -- and I'm never annoyed if I find I was "mislead".  It's comparable to  you either get a joke, or you don't.  It doesn't mean the joke isn't funny.  So the next time you see something and read the article and think that you were misled, maybe you just didn't get the joke.   But no one was trying to fool you into anything more than becoming more educated on a specific story or topic.  You go, girls.  DG

  • Peterj Allard

    Um ... that is what editors are for, to drygulch clever but ultimately really stupid headlines. Heds tell the reader what the story is about, or they were supposed to do that when I was un the biz. When a hed states a reader with a falsity, no end of trouble ensues. I am surprised we don't yet understand that.

  • http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/ GottaLaff

    It's not RWNJ who do it... it's Dems, believe it or not.

  • http://twitter.com/JPJABBER JUDI

    I think you can thank the Fox talking point mentality for comprehension problems today. "SOME" people will only take in and believe what they see in the first four or five words. And they would NEVER go any further to verify or actually READ the article......

  • http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/ GottaLaff

    Hahahahaha! Omg, WHAT communication?

    Love you!

  • http://www.blondetwit.com/ Blondetwit

    Exactly - there's no ability to figure it out, vague, or not...not even a recognition that there *may* be something else there.  Because, you know, EVERYONE is so good at precise communication :-)

  • http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/ GottaLaff

    It's not that they don't figure out a headline, because as I said, they're often misleading, or just vague.

    It's that they take the headline literally or at face value without understanding that a headline is only a hint at what is actually in a post.

  • http://www.blondetwit.com/ Blondetwit

    50% of the population cannot recognize the secondary (or primary) features here:
    http://eluzions.com/recreation/illusions/ambiguous 

    It's not surprising to me they can't figure out a headline.