Accuracy in Media

Headlines are an important part of the news cycle and can determine whether an article, news segment, or video receives a lot of attention and publicity, or not. The mainstream media has whiffed on headlines for decades, often injecting partisan politics at the price of foregoing neutrality and impartiality.

After a family of dual U.S.-Mexico citizens were gunned down by alleged drug cartel members, the Los Angeles Times ran a headline that received significant backlash online. The original headline read, “U.S. victims in Mexico massacre were tied to family with a long history of violence.”

The headline for the article has since been changed to read, “Massacre of U.S. citizens puts spotlight on Mormon community with deep roots in Mexico.”

Nine citizens were killed in the attack in northern Mexico and included women and children. Mexican authorities suspected that the family was mistaken by competing drug cartels as a rival drug cartel vehicle caravan and opened fire on them.

The Los Angeles Times article attempted to provide background information on the victims and their family history. The family, the LeBaron family, have deep ties to northern Mexico spanning back to the 1880s. The family were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints until a dispute over the practice of polygamy led to a falling out. The family left the church and founded an offshoot branch of the religion, more commonly known as fundamentalist Mormons.

The article described the family’s past history of violence, ranging from a 1993 Texas jury conviction of family members for killing up to thirty people over a long period of time, and “a series of killings” between the 1970s and 1980s.

However, the Los Angeles Times brought up the family’s dark past during a time of mourning and tragedy and it upset multiple social media users who criticized the newspaper for the way the headline and the article were framed. Both the original headline and the article’s content appeared to insinuate that the family’s past history of violence mitigated the recent tragedy.

It is understandable that the Los Angeles Times felt it necessary to provide context and background of the LeBaron family and the family’s past history of violence. But the newspaper’s emphasis on the past in the original headline was a disappointing move and appeared to blame the family’s history for the recent tragedy.

The Los Angeles Times did the right thing in changing the headline, but it should review its internal headline processes to avoid a rubbing-salt-in-the-wound moment like this in the future.

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