Fair NPR Story on IRS Tea Party Targeting Gets Revised (More Tilted) Headline After Airing

August 6th, 2013 2:21 PM

Taxpayer-subsidized NPR has a headline problem that won’t go away. As biased as much of its reporting is, NPR’s headline writers often appear to think that there is not enough bias. Sometimes they even write headlines that aren’t supported anywhere in the corresponding report. Even though there has been a history of headline problems at NPR recently, it appears that the headlines go out without being first checked by someone else.

On July 30, NPR congressional reporter Tamara Keith did a fair piece on Internal Revenue Service targeting of political groups (see Newsbusters post on it). That piece initially appeared only online with the headline, “Report: IRS Scrutiny Worse For Conservatives." In what looks to be an updated on-air version of the same story the next day , an NPR headline writer changed the initially accurate headline to one unsupported by the piece: “House Republicans Work To Keep IRS Scandal In The Spotlight.”

A few decades ago, headlines for radio news stories didn’t matter. Today, large numbers of people get news from NPR at their convenience (e.g., NPR’s website, NPR’s apps for smartphones and tablets, podcasts, Facebook,and Twitter), rather than at NPR’s broadcast schedule. In those mediums, headlines are crucial.

One would think that NPR learned its lesson in February, when numerous people complained about a blatantly false headline that read, “Though a Republican Invention, Obama Could Get Blamed for Sequester.” NPR commendably corrected the headline on its website and on Twitter. It seems that little was changed, though, to prevent future occurrences of bias in headlines.

Other examples of biased headlines this year: