BOSTON (CBS) – Vincent Musetto has passed away, a name with special meaning within the news business.

He was the New York Post editor who wrote an iconic headline for a story about a grisly murder in a sketchy Queens barroom: HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR.

The difference between that headline and the one the New York Times used over its coverage – “Owner of a Bar Shot to Death; Suspect Is Held” – speaks volumes about the difference between a feisty tabloid and a stodgy broadsheet. But the story behind Musetto’s terse masterpiece also teaches us an important lesson about facts, why they matter, and why both journalists and their audience should care about them.

According to one of Musetto’s colleagues, they had the immortal headline all written but weren’t sure the bar in question was in fact a topless bar. They called the cops, the bar itself, even the neighbors, but no luck. So they sent a reporter to climb the outside of the bar and peer in a window, where she saw the confirmation they needed.

That’s a lot of trouble to go to, and nowadays I wonder if the same effort would be made.

Think of how quickly people, even some alleged journalists, jump to conclusions about a story based on a fragment of video, a snapshot, or a quote from a single source. Often, by the time the truth comes out, the false narrative has already circled the globe.

This is not what we want, or what we need. But increasingly it’s what we’re getting, and tolerating.

That’s bad news.

And I even have a headline for it that I hope Mr. Musetto would appreciate:

HEEDLESS PUBLIC IN RACE TO THE BOTTOM.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

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Jon Keller

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