Misleading headline rewrites history

. Sunday, May 23


On October 5, 1789, George Washington went to the New York Society Library and checked out “The Law of Nations” by Emer de Vattel. He didn’t return the book or pay any overdue fees.

That the book was missing at all came to light when the library took on the task of restoring it’s charging ledger from 1789 through 1792. Once the news hit that the borrowed book was never returned, staff at the George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens offered to return a same edition copy of the book. On May 19, the library hosted a ceremony to receive the long-lost book.

The headline to the article announcing this relatively unimportant chunk of news reads, “George Washington’s library book returned 221 years late.”

And therein lies the method of which history is rewritten. The headline superficially stretches the actual, known facts and attempts to focus the attention on the first president’s theft of a library book instead of on the fact that the book returned to the library was not the actual book borrowed. That sort of takes the sizzle out of it.

This happens quite a bit nowadays. A story breaks, gets picked up by AP and Reuters, then rewritten a hundred different ways since the goal is to produce something “new” once every hour. The resources aren’t there to verify these chunks of news, so it is recrafted to highlight a different aspect of the bare-bones story to suit various audiences.

So, the first president didn’t return a library book, nor has he paid the overdue fees now totaling $300,000. Is this factual, or supposition?