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Mercury News blasted for insensitive Simone Manuel headline

New York Daily News New York Daily News 12/08/2016 BERNIE AUGUSTINE
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At first glance, San Jose Mercury News readers might’ve thought that Michael Phelps and Simone Manuel watched the moon landing together Thursday night.

The California news outlet’s first pass at a headline for Thursday night’s action in the pool — Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night with African-American — was widely panned for being racially insensitive.

While it was a historic night for Manuel — who became the first black American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming, finishing tied for first with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle — and for Phelps, the wording simply didn’t work and social media wasted little time in blasting the Mercury News for it.

Its second try 10 minutes later was better, but still included a gaffe — Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night Stanford’s Simone Manuel.

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Simone Manuel of the United States celebrates after winning gold in the Women's 100m Freestyle. - Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images © Provided by New York Daily News Simone Manuel of the United States celebrates after winning gold in the Women's 100m Freestyle. - Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The third time was the charm, as The Merc went with “Olympics: Stanford’s Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps make history.”

The editors also decided to tweet out an apology for the earlier insensitive headline and included an editor’s note right at the top of the story:

The original headline on this story was insensitive and has been updated to acknowledge the historic gold medal wins by both Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps. We apologize for the original headline. The story has also been updated.

Still, that wasn’t enough for some readers — and non-readers who were just piling on on Twitter — Friday morning, with more than a few calling the apology and editor’s note “unacceptable” and “bulls--t.”

In a time where headline writers are at the mercy of Google’s search algorithms, it’s possible that whoever was writing the headline was thinking about keywords — history, Olympics, Michael Phelps, African American — and just jammed them all together.

But you’ve still got to read the headline back and think Does this make sense?

The answer is: No.

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