CBS Makes It Seem Palin Called Her Own Statement an 'Obama Smear'

October 7th, 2008 3:04 PM

Are newsrooms so slanted toward Barack Obama that they don't even realize it any more, or was an inaccurate headline about Sarah Palin just another example of more pro-Obama media bias? couldn't even rewrite a simple headline without putting fake words in Palin's mouth. The news organization revised and punched up a headline for a From The Road blog post in a way that made it seem as if Palin called her own comments about Obama's connection to domestic terrorist William Ayers an “Obama [s]mear,” which she didn't. Nowhere in the linked post did Palin say her statements were a “[s]mear" (thanks to NB reader Al; more screengrabs below the fold).

The headline for this October 5 story ran on the front page of's politics section and read, “Palin Says Her Obama Smear Was Not Racist.” In contrast, the headline on the actual From The Road piece accurately represented Palin's statements, “Palin: Obama Began His Political Career in Terrorist's Living Room."

While the biased headline has moved off the front page, it's still available when readers click “More Stories,” which leads to the “Campaign '08” section. That link goes to the From The Road post.

Whether this was a perfect example of the media's crush on Obama coloring how they report the news or a headline writer's attempt to inject pro-Obama bias into a close presidential race, it is amazing that this headline is still on CBS' website after three days.

The headline violated standards set by the Society of Professional Journalists which state (bold mine):

Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context


Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

Calling Palin's assertions an “Obama [s]mear” was opinion--not fact--and misrepresented Palin's comments, which do not follow the SPJ's guidelines. Using the word “smear” cast instant suspicion on Palin's statements and turned what should have been an unbiased headline into an Obama campaign talking point. This veered into unintentional or intentional advocacy and calls into question's impartiality.


Was this just a careless betrayal of personal opinion or something more serious, such as deliberate reader manipulation for political gain? Did someone accidently write a biased headline or was this a conscious decision to inject opinion into a story to influence readers even before they read the first sentence? Either way, it does not reflect well upon CBS News. 

Lynn contributes to NewsBusters and can be reached at tvisgoodforyou2 AT yahoo DOT com with tips or even complaints.