Dear Slate Magazine: some advice for whomever is writing your damned headlines

This is why news organizations can’t afford to entrust their brands to anyone except the pros.

I fired off a brief snark on Facebook yesterday regarding a Slate story:

Slate on Gorsuch

Maybe I shouldn’t be so annoyed. If you click through you see a different headline entirely at the site itself:

The Democrats Can’t Block Gorsuch

– Here are three things they can do.

Although the Facebook hed is reproduced in the float-down at the top of the page for some odd reason.

Slate screen shot

The story itself contains this important, if innocuous, passage on the responsibilities facing Dem voters:

Senate Democrats should explain to them earnestly and clearly that if they want to avoid future similar nominations by future similar presidents, they must vote around the issue of the Supreme Court with the same passion with which they have rallied for justice. Senate Democrats must help them understand that control of the court is as urgent a priority for Democratic voters as it is for Republican ones. Progressive commitments to reproductive rights, environmental protections, workers’ rights, racial equality, and so much more are either vindicated or vitiated at the Supreme Court. Senate Democrats might also suggest that the reason Judge Garland never had a hearing is that not enough Democratic voters in a few swing states retaliated by using the only legal leverage available to them—the power to punish obstructive Senate Republicans at the ballot box.

What we see is a measured explanation of the issues to be stressed and their relative importance. What we don’t see is the sneering finger-wagging piety in the headline, which is tonally identical to what we’ve come to expect of certain aggrieved Clintonistas. So the issue isn’t really the story, nor is it necessarily the editorial desk writing headlines. Instead, I’m guessing, the drama lands at the feet of Slate’s social team, who must have the freedom to rewrite headlines if they see fit. Not sure, since I have no idea how these functions are structured at the site, but that’s my semi-educated guess.

Regardless, the story has continued eating at me, mainly because I expect better out of Slate, top to bottom. They have earned a solid reputation for credible, intelligent journalism, and this little micromoment is entirely out of character.

In any case, they own it, and I almost immediately regretted my snark. Not because I shouldn’t have. But because it should have been better. It should have gone like this:

Message for Slate Magazine: This is what happens when your continue to elect your president using an 18th century tool that some rich white men came up with to protect the “rights” of slave owners.

There. That’s better.

Today, though, I realize even that isn’t enough, because the system is far more broken than just the Electoral College (which has handed the White House to the loser of the popular vote twice in the last five tries, in large part because we tolerate a system where a vote in one state counts more than 3.6 times as much as one cast in another state).

For instance, the GOP won 241 of the 435 seats in the House. If you do the math, that adds up to 55% of the seats. But they only earned around 49% of the vote. In 2014 the Republicans managed 56% of the seats on just over 51% of the vote. And in 2012 they won 53% of the seats on less than 48%of the vote.

Call me crazy, but I’m a fan of the idea that the people with a majority of the votes ought to have a majority of the seats (if you’re pretending to have an unrigged system, anyway). This is why in the past I sang the praises of the proportional parliamentary system.

How the hell did this happen? How the hell does it keep happening as a matter of course? Well, Dr. Denny explained it recently. It’s called “gerrymandering”the manipulation of election districts to afford one political party an advantage over the other.

Gerrymandering chart

Taken together, the Electoral College and the gerrymandered GOPKraft® districting system have buried us under a version of democracy – ahem, excuse me, representative republic – that is engineered, and has been since its founding, to assure minority rule (and the institutionalized injustice that inherently accompanies it).

I hope the good folks at Slate will take this opportunity to familiarize whomever is writing its social media headlines with some instruction in the basics of American governance. And if they’re going to tackle these sorts of issues, maybe they can discuss the value of hating the game, which in this case is the only topic worthy of discussion. The whole story is the game. So don’t be hating the players.

They have worked too hard on building a reputation for good reporting not to.

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