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Failing to Make Sense of an Inexplicably Convoluted, Nonsensical CNN Headline, July 8, 2017

The many problems of CNN can be summed up in the image above, but not the obvious problems that first come to mind when the most trafficked news site in America features the mugshot of the oft-ridiculed actor Shia LaBeouf on its homepage. These obvious problems include, but are in no way limited to:

1) Reporting Shia LeBeouf's arrest for public drunkenness as news, just because he's famous;

2) Crediting LeBeouf with enough fame to consider this news;

3) Considering this news because it's what they think is the kind of thing people want to read about;

4) The sad truth that CNN is correct, and that this is indeed the exact kind of thing people want to read about, or 4a) The sadder truth that this is not what people want to read about, but rather, the exact kind of thing that people can't help but click, mistaking this for news the way a moth mistakes a light bulb for the moon, or more classically, a fish takes the bait;

5) Omitting all context of the arrest from the headline, confusing us and forcing us to click it in order to resolve this confusion;

6) Presenting the headline in bold and accompanying it with a picture, implying its importance, making us think that the arrest must have been for something BIG, otherwise the headline would have been small, un-bolded, and unaccompanied by a picture, much like the headline following it; and

7) The headline following it being obviously more newsworthy than the arrest of poor Shia LeBeouf, by the very simple nature of 7a) Any headline being more newsworthy than the arrest of Shia LeBeouf for public drunkenness, or at least on equal footing with it; and 7b) This particular headline, presented as less important than LeBeouf's arrest, being of, on the contrary, the utmost importance – news of a meeting between the two most powerful people in the world.

These are just some of the problems that come to mind. Perhaps for you, they come very easily; just one glance at LeBeouf's sad face on the front-page was all it took for your problems with CNN to swim up to the surface of your consciousness. You look at LeBeouf with pity – not pity for LeBeouf, for you might actually even like LeBeouf, ever since he endeared himself to you forever with his fine work in Even Stevens, and if he got arrested then it was surely for a good and righteous cause, certainly not his fault – rather, you pity the millions of people you know will click this article helplessly, and, on your better days, pity whoever at CNN you know was instructed to post this trash, because "it's a business." You shake your head at capitalism. You remember Even Stevens with fondness and sadness, a certain kind of sadness that is really just the feeling of a certain fondness lost. This is typical.

But there are greater forces at work here. Greater problems. Less typical problems. Look at the second headline, effectively hidden under the sheer force of nature that is the LeBeouf headline:

"White House declines to rebut Putin's claim that Trump accepted his denial."

Read this headline again. Read it again, and again, until you can figure out what the devil it means. I count three negatives: 1) "declines; 2) "rebuts"; and 3) "denial" – three negatives in a single headline. I also count three subjects: 1) the White House; 2) Putin; and 3) Trump – that is, unless you count the White House and Trump as one subject. Under normal circumstances, the White House and the President would be considered the same subject; however, in this case, these are almost definitely two subjects. The headline makes little sense, but it would make even less if it referred to the same subject by two different names. Read it again: "White House declines to rebut Putin's claim that Trump accepted his denial." And again, one subject-action at a time:

1) "White House declines to rebut..." "Declines to rebut" is essentially the same as saying withholding comment. Withholding comment on what? Well, the real story, the meat of the headline. Go on:

2) "Putin's claim that..." Okay...

3) "Trump accepted his denial." This is the real tricky part. It seems that Putin denied something, something clearly newsworthy, almost definitely election hacking, although we don't know this for sure from the headline. Nonetheless, here in this headline, we have Putin claiming one thing, Putin denying another thing, Trump accepting one thing, and the White House declining another thing. And zero substance; we don't know what any of these things are exactly, at least not from this headline. Better to parse this out into several headlines, and for good measure, assume we know the "something" to be election hacking:

"Putin Denies Hacking US Election"

"Putin Claims Trump Accepted This Denial"

"White House: No Comment on Putin's Claims"

Putting these together, and assuming the "something," we get the following gem:

"White House: No Comment on Putin's Claim That Trump Accepted His Denial of Hacking US Election"

I guess that's slightly better. But of course, the following headline fits just as well:

"White House: No Comment on Putin's Account of Trump Meeting"


White House Provides No Update On Yesterday's News Story

And because, sadly, no one today wants to read yesterday's news:

Actor Shia LeBeouf Arrested




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