Today's New York Times has a story entitled "Federal Effort to Head Off TV Piracy Is Challenged" -- a headline that gives the entire weight of the dispute to one side. The story describes efforts by several organizations to challenge the Federal Communications Commission's mandate, on behalf of the copyright cartel in the entertainment industry, to lock down digitally broadcast signals so they can't be copied.
The story itself isn't bad. As the reporter discusses (though not in much depth), there are many good reasons why this anti-copying system, called the "Broadcast Flag," is a travesty -- including its attack on fair use, for scholarship and creating new art, not to mention the peculiar notion that technology companies now need permission to innovate.
But the headline is poison. By defining the debate in terms of preventing piracy -- when the story could have as easily, and accurately, been headlined as "Hollywood Move to Block Technological Innovation is Challenged" -- it sets a tone that even a fair article has trouble balancing back to an honest discussion.
This is a small issue, in a sense. The Times is not going to admit the headline is biased. There will be no correction, no clarification.
Headline writers have other duties. They tend to be overworked and underpaid, given the power their wield. And while I'm sure the headline writer in this case had no qualms -- thinking he or she was capturing the flavor of the issue -- this is a small but telling example of how a headline can twist readers' views, even before they know what the story is about.
One thing we can be almost certain about, however: We'll be extremely unlikely to see any of the major television news outlets even mention this issue, for obvious reasons that they are members of the cartel pushing the Broadcast Flag. So give the Times its due, just for covering it in the first place.