Sometimes, media headlines make me want to bang my head against the wall.

For about two years, I’ve been informally logging headlines across Pennsylvania that skew stories to fit a specific narrative — or spew flat-out falsehoods.

Granted, headlines can be tough. Space is limited, and writers are tasked with capturing a lot in a few words, so some grace is merited. But sometimes the slant is so pronounced that even space limitations can’t excuse it.

From education to elections, here are a few headline hit jobs of note, in no particular order:

1) “A massive Pa. corporate tax break lacks basic accountability, report finds” (January 25, 2022, Spotlight PA

This sounds bad, right? A “massive” program without “basic accountability”? Yikes!

Not so fast. The story refers to Pennsylvania’s widely popular tax credit scholarship programs, which empower parents to choose the best education for their children.

These $280 million school choice programs represent less than one percent of the annual $33 billion Pennsylvania spends on public education. But the headline cries “massive,” while a previous story in the same media outlet claimed public schools are underfunded. Apparently, $33 billion for traditional public schools is too little, but $280 million for school choice is “massive.” 

2) “Pa. Republican lawmakers seek ban on transgender athletes” (March 29, 2022, NBC10 Philadelphia

This headline is just flat out wrong. There’s no proposed ban on transgender athletes. They are welcome in Pennsylvania. There is, however, a proposed ban on transgender athletes playing women’s sports. Big difference. Spotlight PA ran an equally inaccurate headline (which was reprinted statewide): “Pa. is considering a ban on trans athletes. Experts say it’s discriminatory and ‘anti-evidence’.” 

Let’s just say if there was enough room for the second sentence in this headline, surely there was enough room to get the facts right in the first sentence.

3) As Pennsylvania GOP gets more conservative, labor unions are back in the crosshairs” (Nov 17. 2021, WHYY) 

“Back in the crosshairs”? What exactly are Republicans trying to do? Well, the proposals in question would inform public workers of their First Amendment rights regarding union membership, protect workers’ privacy, bring greater transparency to government union contracts, and stop government unions (which are private organizations) from using taxpayer-funded resources for their political fundraising. No other private organization has this special political privilege.

During the 2019-20 election cycle, government union political action committees spent nearly $17 million in Pennsylvania, mostly for Democrats. But apparently, when lawmakers want to end the unions’ use of taxpayer dollars for political ends, the media thinks that’s putting unions “in the crosshairs.”

4) “Cyber charter enrollments are surging. School districts are picking up the tab” (Oct. 19, 2020, Inquirer) and related, “How much did the pandemic cyber charter surge cost Pa. school districts? More than $12K per student, new report shows” (June 15, 2022, Inquirer

The Philadelphia Inquirer has long advanced the false narrative that charter schools rob traditional public schools of funding, despite the fact that charter schools receive, on average, about 27% less per pupil than district schools. Let’s consider these headlines in light of recent data showing that Pennsylvania school district spending per student reached an all-time high of $19,900 in 2020-21. If districts paid cyber charters more than $12,000 for each student who left the district to attend a cyber charter, then school districts KEPT about $7,000 for each departing student.

So, instead of saying school districts are “picking up the tab,” an accurate headline would have said school districts are “profiting” from the surge in charter enrollments. I’m not holding my breath for a correction.

5) “Across the nation, and in Pa., Republican wave of voting restrictions swells(March 28, 2021, Pennsylvania Capital-Star and Pew Charitable Trusts

Many media stories on voting laws these days cast Democrats as wanting to increase access to voting and Republicans as wanting to restrict access. That’s the narrative. But who’s “restricted” from voting? Can the media name one person who currently has the legal right to vote who would lose that legal right to vote under proposed reforms?

Finally, here’s one for the ages:

6) “Why inflation can actually be good for everyday Americans and bad for rich people” (December 1, 2021, CNN)

And this, my friends, is a perfect example of how headlines simply can’t always be trusted to tell the truth. 

Gina Diorio is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania.

8 thoughts on “Gina Diorio: Headline hit jobs”

  1. The charter school funding lie is an example of something being repeated often enough that the average person comes to accept it as being true. Even if 100% of the funding stayed with the student (which it does not as the article appropriately notes), no money would be “robbed” from the sponsoring school district. That would be the same as stating that private and parochial schools likewise “rob” school districts.

  2. “Spotlight PA” is basically the Inquirer and shows up under this name in small town newspapers. Lying and manipulating.

    1. This “non-partisan, she seems to be always on the Republican side but that’s neither here there. I love how they say “main stream media.” Aren’t you part of the main stream media as well that’s another one of your code word to use for outlets or title or 21 articles it don’t agree with your narrative but that’s OK we still have freedom of speech here!

      1. This is exactly the circular reasoning the regressive right is so good at. The “mainstream media” is just defined as any outlet that dares criticize or question the official Republican Party Narrative. Therefore ALL mainstream media is “biased” because that’s how they’ve defined it. Hence far right outlets like Fox News are somehow not “mainstream media” even though they are, by all accounts, both “mainstream” and “media”.

        Notice there aren’t any headlines from Fox News mentioned in the article. How convenient. Must be because they’re so “fair and balanced” lol.

    1. Of course the difference is that a violent mob of Dewey thugs never stormed and beat their way into the Capitol vowing to hang anyone who didn’t illegally overturn the election the media erroneously told them they’d won.

  3. Good lord the hypocrisy of Broad and Liberty posting this is his hilarious. What about all your “politically motivated” “hit jobs” on Krasner? Has it occurred to the radical regressive right that reporting things as they are may not always flattering to everyone?

    “Who’s “restricted” from voting? Can the media name one person who currently has the legal right to vote who would lose that legal right to vote under proposed reforms?”

    Come on. This is so disingenuous. Who’s “restricted” from owning guns under proposed Democratic gun laws? Can the media name one person who currently has the legal right to own a gun who would lose that right under proposed gun laws? Of course, unlike voter fraud, gun violence is an actual widespread problem in our country.

    When lawmakers want to end the unions’ use of taxpayer dollars for political ends, the media thinks that’s putting unions “in the crosshairs.”

    This is literally what Citizens United was all about and the CONSERVATIVE justices ruled that restricting spending on political ends by corporations OR UNIONS violated free speech. (Not that the right ever actually cared about free speech). If you really think that unions should be censored by restricting their political spending then get the right wing nuts off the supreme court. Of course then you’d have to also give up all the dark money that big corporations, many who benefit from government contracts, spend on right wing politics.

    Enough BS.

  4. Will Bunch, from the Inquirer, continues to make bring his irrelevance to the comment boards of his peer journalists.

    Are the Kranser “hit jobs” truly hit jobs when they’re true? Or are you just upset by the “reporting [of] things as they are [that] may not always flattering to everyone”.

    Also why do you argue about gun laws while the Philly DAO doesn’t enforce the current laws already on the books.

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