News & Politics

Washington Post Headline About Eliciting Sympathy, Not Reporting Facts

Family and supporters of Romulo Avelica, an immigrant who was arrested on Feb. 28 after he dropped his daughter off at school, protest outside the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles on March 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

When I first learned how to write a headline, I was taught that it should inform the reader as to what the story is about. While I’m partial to clever headlines as a general rule — “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar” is an all-time favorite — they’re still supposed to convey the details of the story. The idea is that even if someone skims the news, he should have a basic idea of what is happening.

The Washington Post should know this. After all, as one of the largest newspapers in the country, WaPo should easily be able to access the best and brightest of the journalism field. There’s no reason to believe headlines are created without thought or care, right?

So why, then, does a headline about an illegal immigrant seem all about feeling and less about fact?

He was brought to Virginia as a toddler, deported at 19. He died in an overheated tractor-trailer trying to return,” the headline reads.

While the text refers to Frank G. Fuentes as an “undocumented immigrant,” that bit is conveniently left out of the headline. Instead, it reads as if he were a man who was just trying to get home or something. The headline seemingly ignores Fuentes’s status as an illegal immigrant (yes, I prefer to say “immigrant,” but only because “illegal alien” causes me to think of space men breaking the law).

The entire tone of the piece is sympathetic, not just for the others killed in the back of a semi-truck, but illegals in general. It tries to create a narrative designed to elicit sympathy from readers.

While mentioned, Fuentes’s criminal history in this country is all but glossed over.

But online records from Fairfax County Circuit Court show that Fuentes pleaded guilty to simple assault and battery by a mob, and grand larceny­/pickpocketing, in March 2016. That July, Fuentes was arrested by federal agents, ICE said in a statement. His deportation was ordered in February.

When Barrios-Mazariegos last spoke to Fuentes on Snapchat a month ago, she said, he confided how much he was struggling in an unfamiliar country. “He’s been here forever,” she said. “He doesn’t know what Guatemala was. His home is here, his friends are here, his family is here.”

Barrios-Mazariegos has set up a GoFundMe page for Fuentes’s family. She said she hoped her friend, who loved skateboarding and music, would be remembered for more than his criminal record. “We all make mistakes,” she said. “He wanted to be better for his family and his mom . . . that’s all he cared about.”

The problem is none of his family was here legally. While I have some sympathy for the fact that Fuentes has no memory of his home country, that sympathy is limited. Especially in light of what his crimes were in this country.

Then the Post goes right back to painting him as a “good boy” despite his violent crimes.

What happened in the back of that truck is a tragedy. People dying like that always is, but let’s not forget that they were breaking the law when they died. For better or worse, the immigration laws are what they are, and when you break them, stuff like this happens. If you enter the country illegally, the only people who can help you are criminals. Guess what kind of person doesn’t care if you live or die?

If only the Washington Post would report it that way for a change.