Memo to CNN: Write better headlines

Some of you may have been following the story out of Peru concerning a suspected meteorite and a rash of unexplained illness. Here's what we don't know:

  1. Whether or not it was actually a meteorite; and
  2. Whether the object is actually making people sick.

The basic uncertainty of the case is reflected in most headlines out of major media outlets:

Peruvians get sick from apparent meteorite crater (Reuters)

Peru investigates reports that meteorite is causing illnesses (Los Angeles Times)

600 sick in Peru after 'meteorite' crashes (CBC)

Scores ill in Peru 'meteor crash' (BBC)

Peruvians become ill at meteorite crater site (Globe and Mail)

And then there's the CNN headline:

Suspected Meteorite Causes Sickness

See what they did there? Instead of saying 'might be causing illness' or 'Pervians get sick a suspected meteorite crater', they flatly state that the meteorite caused the illness. We don't know that. And their headline contradicts the first line of their story:

Officials are investigating unconfirmed reports that a meteorite crashed in southern Peru over the weekend and caused dozens of people to become sick.

Note the key words: 'investigating' and 'unconfirmed'. The copy acknowledges the uncertainty, while the headline states the meteorite/disease connection as fact.

The meteorite may well be making people sick, but for the moment that's just speculation. And speculation is not the providence of journalism. Shame on you, CNN.