Impressions form fast. That is why the choice of words matters. Headlines—those short news clips in big, bold letters—tell a short story. That means they are ideal for reporters who want to slant the truth. Sometimes that slant warps around nearly 180 degrees from what really happened.
Shootings are particularly red meat to reporters who are biased against people who want to be free to exercise the right to keep and bear arms.
Understand, this story could be written in many ways. Someone chose that headline. It is true, but it leaves so much unsaid. The absence of precision implies other sinister possibilities.
Scuffle where, why? In a bar? Over a romance gone bad? Road rage? Bad cop bullying ordinary citizen? The ambiguous headline leaves open all of those possibilities. ”Scuffle” implies two guys mixing it up over some personal clash. Is this another one of those handgun carry permit people we are so suspicious of? Bet he is! Those whacko, rightwingnutjobguntotinghomophobes have got to be stopped! Nothing in the headline excludes these knee-jerk inferences.
“Unpaid volunteer deputy.” Now, what other unpaid volunteer good citizen has been in the news because of a fatal shooting? Does that hint at “George Zimmerman?”
The first sentence in the story starts: “The unpaid volunteer reserve deputy involved in a fatal shooting Saturday….”
“Involved?” ”Involved?” How? As the aggressor? As the assailant? As the deputy-gone-wild? As someone-else’s-wife’s lover? Did some teenager whose car broke down knock on the deputy’s door and get attacked by the lunatic volunteer reserve deputy?
You have to read half the story before the reporter begins to tell you what actually happened. Consider the impression the story has already left. As you read the article trying to figure out what this “scuffle” was about (I will tell you at the end.) you read this additional detail about our shooter: “Williams also is the lead investigator for Premiere Protection and Investigations of Clinton. He previously worked as assistant manager of the AT&T Store in Oak Ridge.” Oh, so we have a rogue private investigator type who is a mere retail cell phone store manager—just an ordinary guy wanting to carry a guy and be tough. That overweight, insecure type they like to derisively label: “mall ninja.”
Now, let me re-write the headline: “Local hero kills career criminal.”
This is true. You could make it, “Unpaid, volunteer deputy hero today: shoots career criminal,” or “Unpaid volunteer risks life, kills career criminal.”
Now, here are more facts that emerge, written well down into the story. The tenor of remainder of the story is quite complimentary of the county’s volunteer, reserve deputy program.
“Williams was on patrol on Pine Ridge Road in the Marlow community when he tried to conduct a traffic stop on Wilcox, who at the time was wanted for two contempt of court counts and another outstanding warrant for failure to appear. [For what charges?]
Wilcox at first refused to stop and then parked in a driveway and ran into nearby woods. He then confronted Williams, sparking a scuffle that turned deadly, officials said.
Wilcox had an extensive record of criminal charges, including violent crimes. He was awaiting trial in May on a February 2009 carjacking charge where he allegedly stabbed the victim in the neck.” [Emphasis added by MJM]
Words matter. They are chosen carefully and convey meaning, unless you are Joe Biden.