Obama Does What?

PUBLISHED: February 11, 2012

We know President Obama did something Friday related to rules covering contraception and health insurance for employees of religious organizations. But how do you characterize his action in a short headline? What’s the appropriate verb to follow “Obama…”?

Saturday’s front pages went in many, telling, directions. The Boston Globe and Seattle Times were among those who said, “Obama bends.” But The Wall Street Journal and the Providence Journal declared, “Obama retreats.”

Which was it, a bend or a retreat?

Several major papers, led by The New York Times and Miami Herald, took the most cautious approach by saying, “Obama adjusts.” A similarly neutral choice was “shifts,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and the San Jose Mercury News.

Perhaps the most benign choice, serving to cleanse the story of any meaning, came on page one of the Los Angeles Times, “Obama reacts.”

Other verbs of note: Sacramento Bee, “gives ground”; San Diego Union-Tribune, “revises”; Cleveland Plain Dealer, “eases”; Tampa Bay Times, “yields”; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “finds compromise”; the Akron Beacon Journal, “reverses”; the Financial Times, “modifies.”

The Chicago Sun-Times and the Cincinnati Enquirer staked out much more aggressive positions with the words, “backed down.”

Rarely does a newspaper headline present such a challenge to editors, some of whom were clearly driven by objectivity, while others allowed their editorial stance to affect the front-page treatment. It underscores how divided the nation is on an issue that seems, to many on both sides, to be rather clear cut.

As for New York’s Post and Daily News, you’d never know from their front pages what Obama did Friday. Both papers put contraception aside, apparently, for full-page celebrations of Beyonce’s baby.

(c) Peter Funt.

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