September 19, 2011
The "headlines" referred to the criticism Jay Cutler(notes) received after leaving January's NFC championship game with an injury. During a quick fourth-quarter montage, three headlines flashed on screen, each accompanied by photo of Cutler looking despondent on the sideline.
Fox color analyst Daryl Johnston said, "These are the actual headlines from the local papers in Chicago," following the clip. He and play-by-by announcer Kenny Albert discussed the Cutler criticism for a few more seconds before on-field action forced a change of topic.
The Tribune went back to verify Johnston's claim and discovered that none of the "headlines" were used. The newspaper wrote:
The whole production rang false to us. The headlines didn't look real. The language used in them was off. And since we know that most Chicago media had defended Cutler, we looked into it. We searched throughout Illinois newspapers for those headlines — Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily Herald, every other paper in the state. What did we find?
In fact, we could not find any such headlines in any newspaper in the United States.
The Tribune insinuated that lazy producers were to blame. Had they spent 30 minutes looking, the newspaper wrote, game producers could have used any number of excerpts, headlines or Tweets that actually did question Cutler's toughness.
That's a little over the top. Leaving aside whether using fake newspaper headlines in a montage makes for good television or good journalism (it does neither), I don't think Fox was trying to pull a fast one on viewers. The headlines didn't have any attribution and were all in the same font. They don't even sound like real headlines. If Fox intended to mislead, they did an unconvincing job of it.
A Fox spokesman said admitted the headlines weren't clear. "The wrong word was used," Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell told the newspaper. [We assume he means Johnston's use of "actual."] "Our attempt was to capture the overall sentiment nationwide following that game."
That goes along with my first thought when I read this story. In these cases, the simplest explanation is also the most likely: Johnston misspoke when he made his claim that those were actual headlines. He delivered that line in the tone of someone saying something he was unsure of, almost as if he hadn't been paying attention to the montage and had to come up with something on the spot. Yes, he was wrong but it wasn't that big of a deal.
Plus, we don't know what the Trib is so touchy about. It's not like they've never made a mistake.
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