Why We Should Stop Writing Headlines Like This

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"Why Obama Is No LBJ"; "Why It Makes Sense to Pay Pilots a Decent Salary"; "Why Alexis de Tocqueville Matters Today"; "Why the Ground Zero Design Is So Bad"; "Why Critics Love the Erotic Novel Afterburn, and Why They're Wrong"; "How Bin Laden Lost the Clash of Civilizations". What do these headlines all have in common? They're all recent headlines from American media, and James Bowman thinks they're all nonsense.

Bowman dislikes them for offering "Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking" and for their expression of "misplaced intellectual certainty." Specifically:

There is a charmless, school-masterish self-importance about the formula that would be annoying even if the promised explanations were all accurate and demonstrable, but it is almost always the case that the more insistent the whys and hows the less likely they are to explain anything but some thinly disguised opinion or conjecture of the author.

Bowman, however, is not entirely innocent of introducing "thinly disguised opinion" himself. His headline "Why they're wrong and I'm right" is satirical, yet the article ends with a conjecture that is not. He suggests that this journalistic practice derives in part from President Obama, who inspires this "affectation of professorial omnicompetence which now infects our media." His evidence? That President Kennedy "single-headedly" destroyed the market for fedoras.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.