« Patent Law Final Today | Main | Weekly Open Thread: What Races Are You Interested In? »

Saturday, December 10, 2005

OH-Sen: Reading Past the Headlines

Posted by DavidNYC

Sometimes when I write blog post headlines, I try to be pithy. Most of the time, I just try to be descriptive. But all of the time, if you try to glean some wider meaning from just a headline - whether it's a post written by me or any blogger - you're making a serious mistake. So I gritted my teeth when I read this paragraph from a new piece in In These Times on the Ohio senate race:

Blog opinion on the race is by no means uniform. Many support Brown, but it’s a strange feature of the blogosphere that a newcomer to politics like Hackett is widely considered a known quantity, while Brown, who’s spent his entire adult life in public office, is a mystery. One skeptical blogger on the Web site Swing State Project summed up his reservations with a post titled: “Who is Sherrod Brown?” (Emphasis added.)

Christopher Hayes, the author of this story, has unfortunately revealed that he didn't bother to read past the headline of the post in question. Not only did I recant much of my original point with an update posted at the very top of the entry within a few hours of the initial posting, even during the first go-round I made it amply clear that I was discussing a single, very narrow issue:

I know that Brown has other merits, and I know that name recognition is only one piece of the puzzle. A lot of people more knowledgeable than I have said that Brown has a tremendous organization in Ohio, and has connections throughout the political strata. I haven't yet seen proof of these claims, but I will also grant that this poll does nothing to undermine them, either. It is limited to one question and one question only - namely, how well-known is Sherrod Brown amongst the general public?


Again I say, this poll does not speak to any other issues. I stress this point because I don't want this post to be misunderstood. I am making a very narrow argument here: On name recognition alone, I don't think Brown supporters can make any kind of strong claims that their guy has the edge. But again, I welcome any refutation of this argument.

The boldface in both of those paragraphs was in the original. Could it be any clearer that the headline, "Who is Sherrod Brown?" did not "sum up my reservations" at all? Next time, Mr. Hayes, please don't read so selectively.

P.S. As to the merits of this old argument, I don't think name recognition matters very much anymore in this race. Both Hackett and Brown are polling equally well against DeWine, and their name rec numbers are pretty close (Brown is 7 points ahead of Hackett).

Posted at 03:42 PM in 2006 Elections - Senate, Ohio | Technorati

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


I think the real issue here is to debunk what some people have put out, that Brown has statewide name recognition because a decade and a half ago he was secretary of state. I think any edge that gave him over Hackett is long gone. The guy with the name recognition problem here is DeWine, who has much higher name recognition than either of his potential Democratic opponents, yet he's not doing well against either in the polls.

My personal opinion is that Hackett will build that edge and Brown will get swift-boated, leaving DeWine the probable winner in a Brown vs DeWine race. But we'll see once they hit the campaign trail. I've already heard Hackett three times in interviews and he sounds terrific. His message is totally honed to grab those disenchanted republicans and independents. Hackett really speaks their language. I have not heard Brown since he declared for the Senate, only during a book promotion to a decidely upscale crowd, so I reserve my judgment there. My gut feeling though is that Brown will have problems converting people outside the hardcore Democratic/progressive base.

Posted by: Ansatasia P [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 12, 2005 09:26 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

There's an important logistical point here. Headlines are very important - and they should summarize your post; not be cutesy or fun.

Newspapers are to blame for this - but in a paper, the headline sits next to the text. Online, the headline is isolated - in a Google result, a bookmark, or a syndicated headline (like on the LeftyBlogs BlogWire)

See my piece "Headlines are Critical Content" at Politics & Technology. It's a little thing, but it's so important.

Posted by: Kari Chisholm [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 12, 2005 03:57 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

The fault here was with the author for reading too much into a title. He could have done so no matter what title I used.

As it happens, In These Times used the exact same headline for their Sherrod Brown story - "Who Is Sherrod Brown?"

Would I be justified in saying that "One skeptical author at the magazine In These Times summed up his reservations about a Brown cadidacy with an article titled, 'Who is Sherrod Brown?'" Of course not.

Even if I had titled my piece in the most helpful way possible - say, "Poll Indicates Sherrod Brown is Not as Well-Known as Some Claim" - the author of the In These Times piece could just as easily have written that I "summed up my reservations" with that title. And he still would have been wrong.

Posted by: DavidNYC [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 12, 2005 05:52 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment