Friday, March 17, 2017

Driven Out, Not Sent Packing

The story is bad enough: an African American couple and their three foster children moved into a house in the Twin Cities exurb of Delano only a few months ago, and over the weekend found their home burglarized and vandalized with unprintably racist graffiti and spray-painted messages like "get out."

This post is not about what happened to the family, which you can learn from reading the story linked above. My question is: What headline would you put on that news story, if you were the Star Tribune?

I'm not sure exactly what I would have done in their place, but I know it wouldn't have been worded the way the Star Tribune folks did it here:

The threats "sent them packing," the headline tells us. Sent them packing.

Have you ever used that phrase? I don't think I have, and the only appropriate headline usages that come to mind are sports-related. ("The Yankees sent the Twins packing, 12 - 2.") It's not meant to be used for something serious.

The original phrase, of course, comes from Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, when Falstaff says to Henry about a visitor waiting to see him, "Faith, and I'll send him packing."

Some definitions I've seen: to send away ignominiously; to dismiss someone, possibly rudely. I'd even go so far as to argue that it implies a lack of preparation by the one who is sent packing. They were no match for the victor, the words imply.  

It's a phrase that speaks from the point of view of the winner, which in the case of this news story means the racists who damaged and defaced a family's home. It's inappropriate to use in this headline.

The story does refer to the fact that the family members are packing their belongings to move out of the house (to an unnamed suburb that is more racially diverse than Delano, home of our post-Michele Bachmann Congressional Rep. Tom Emmer). But I sincerely hope the headline writer wasn't trying to use word play in the headline for such a serious story.

As if to acknowledge that the main headline wasn't quite right, the jump headline read like this:

Switching the verb to "drive from" is much more of a factual rendering.

The headline on the Star Tribune website reads like this:

Nobody's been sent packing in these other two headlines, and I hope that in the future only baseball teams are sent packing in the Star Tribune.

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