Of deceptive headlines and bait journalism

The 27 May edition of The Observer led with the story, How USA forced Museveni to hire ex-Monitor editor.

When I saw a copy of the paper, I immediately pictured the big man in the U.S. holding a gun to Museveni’s head and bellowing: “Hire Don Wanyama or this relationship is over!” Okay that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point.

As I read the story, I hoped to find out WHY the United States ‘forced’ President Museveni to hire Mr Wanyama as Senior Presidential Press Secretary. HOW did it happen? WHAT did this all mean? Alas, the information was not there.

Instead, The Observer story describes the President’s fury at a statement by the U.S. permanent representative to the UN, Samantha Power, who described him as “a threat to the stability of Uganda and the region” at a UN security meeting in March. According to the article, Mr Museveni asked his press team to pen a rebuttal, but for some reason Ms Lindah Nabusayi Wamboka did not receive the directive.

This is where The Observer says Mr Wanyama comes in. Mr Wanyama, who was serving as a special media assistant in the NRM chairman’s office, reportedly received a call from the President’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, asking him to write the counterargument. The opinion piece, titled Museveni does not need lectures from Samantha Power, was published by New Vision. Thereafter, Wanyama was invited for a chat with the higher-ups, he was promised a job, and voila!

Is The Observer telling the reader that President Museveni’s appointment of Mr Wanyama was based on just one opinion article? That’s the impression the story gives.

In the event that this was the case, would the significance of this not have been worth explaining?

It appears, from the article, that no one’s hand was forced, not least President Museveni’s, and any U.S. government action was, at best, incidental to these events.

Headline writing is one of the hardest aspects of writing for journalists. Not everything can be captured in a headline, of course. However to appear to ensnare readers into picking a paper because of a deceptive headline is dubious, and at its worst, unprofessional.


Harriet Anena

Harriet Anena is ACME’s Special Projects Officer


  1. Miz Anena, Hi,
    After all these years of reading “Sex secrets of revealed”, now is when you protest the ongoing “bait and switch” in our print media?
    That headline means “ovoboviously” that after the “bruhahah” (technical term meaning wolokoso), the president had no choice but appoint Don Wanyama. But hey, if you are in a time of your life when taking down observer from a platform of journalistic excellence floats your boat, then GOOD FOR YOU!
    I understood the article and title to mean the president had no choice. It was the only prudent action.
    DISCLAIMER: No idea who Don is but I have read observer for a long time and used to be gullible and susceptible to redpepper headlines.
    Kindly send me your mobile money account so I can refund the cost of your copy of observer. I note you say nothing of praise or noteworthiness about observer which for a blog post by a journalist, smacks of a lack of objectivity. Were you constrained by word count?

    1. Dear Jake,
      Thank you for passing by our website. At ACME, part of our work is to promote journalistic excellence. The Observer is one of the newspapers that always gets it right, by doing investigative journalism and analysis, and more, beyond just breaking stories. So the spirit of the article is to point out what I and my colleagues considered a deceptive headline. We don’t need a refund for money spent in buying The Observer, We just need them to do honest journalism, as they always do. If you have been reading articles from our website, you will notice that we have a section called, “There’s more to this story” where we analyse stories that we think are important but were not given the due attention, in terms of space and information. The spirit of that initiative is to improve our journalism, not to bring down our journalism or any media house. If you have any ideas on how we can do that, do share with us.

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