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Did a headline writer help defeat Romney in the election?


In the Wall Street Journal today Karl Rove lists some of the "lucky" factors that led to President Obama's reelection: Hurricane Sandy, the "47 percent" tape and an unfortunate op-ed headline:

"Then there was the anonymous New York Times headline writer who affixed "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" to Mr. Romney's November 2008 op-ed on reorganizing the auto companies, which the Obama campaign brought up again and again in the industrial Midwest. The president made it appear that Mr. Romney favored liquidation of the companies (which he did not), instead of an orderly reorganization (which he did)."

Without explicitly saying it, Rove suggests whoever wrote the headline on the op-ed had it in for Romney. Maybe. Anyone who's read the paper's editorials for the last two month knows the NYT was never on Team Romney. But maybe not.

Here's the job of a headline writer: Find the point of the article, come up with a punchy line and make sure it fits in the print edition.

Let's take it one by one.

The point of the article was indeed that "Detroit" should go "bankrupt." Summed up in Romney's own words in the article: "Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. ... A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs."

The headline is certainly punchy. Otherwise, we wouldn't be talking about it four years later.

I wasn't able to locate the print edition of the paper but it's safe to assume the headline was made to fit.

If anything about the op-ed aided in costing Romney the election, it's the fact that he wrote it at all. He may have been right in what he said. But in campaign politics, you don't necessarily get credit for being right.

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