On my twitter page @philpdioguardi, I have retweeted a number of articles discussing how click-bait headlines mislead, misrepresent, and twist the facts of a story to suit the agenda of the writer and the publication.
Newspapers across North America, notably The New York Times, The Washington Post, and here at home the Toronto Star, regularly load up with tabloid-worthy sensational headlines calculated to give readers a false impression before the reader is able to engage with the text of the story. There is usually a tremendous disconnect between the “three-headed baby/alien” message of the headline and the body of the story. #thisisnews ?
The publications don’t care. They just want readers and clickthroughs, which apparently justifies the outrageous headline.
Unfortunately, readers engage with a story from the point of view presented in the headline, and with difficulty relinquish that view point as they digest the facts and narrative provided in paragraphs 3 through whatever of the body of the article.
I am no stranger to the net effect of this new age yellow journalism. In May 2014, Philippe DioGuardi became front page news when my regulator escalated our ongoing dispute over how DioGuardi Tax Law protects clients from the Canada Revenue Agency, by filing a Notice of Application for a conduct hearing.
The Toronto Star gleefully trumpeted this front page headline: “Prominent tax lawyer accused of cheating clients”. The headline was accompanied by a paparazzi snap of me and my father. Most unflattering, but my ego can bear it, which is why I am not shy of showing it to you here. Because the point I have to make far outweighs the embarrassment of a nasty Philippe DioGuardi photo and a defamatory headline.
The Notice of Application did not allege cheating. By the time readers of the Toronto Star story got to paragraph three, neither did the Toronto Star. But the misleading headline had already set up an expectation that did not need to fulfilled by a reading of the facts.
Philippe DioGuardi, Paul DioGuardi, and DioGuardi Tax Law responded to the Toronto Star with a statement of claim, which presented, among other arguments, an intelligent dissection of how a misleading headline sets up a false perspective that influences the way in which the reader engages with the facts presented throughout the story, helping the reader connect the dots according to the headline writer’s agenda.
That first front page headline spawned two more Philippe DioGuardi front page stories, each more salacious than the one before, as the Toronto Star ventured past my dispute with the regulator and into the more “journalistically” fertile territory of my personal life, violating not just my privacy, but also that of my children and my parents. Again, #thisisnews ?
The DioGuardi claim against the Toronto Star is as yet unresolved. However the Toronto Star did post a notice on the online version of the article acknowledging that the story was the subject of legal complaint. But the headline is still google clickbait.
Of course it is. It was written to be so.
Once they paint slut on the school yard wall, it’s practically impossible to erase that perception from hearts and minds. For that reason, I suggest that when next you read about Philippe DioGuardi in a headline, you suspend your belief until you discover the facts. I will publish those facts for you here. Then you can break free of the clickbait spell and use your native intelligence to draw your own conclusions.