Bizarre Headline in Wall Street Journal

“Governor’s Trip Confuses South Carolina.” So reads the headline of the on-line version of a news story in today’s Wall Street Journal.
The hard-copy version of the headline is even more dramatic: “State of Chaos as Governor Vanishes.”

Yet you don’t need to read beyond the third paragraph to find out that South Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s spokesman knew how to reach him.

What gives? What seems like a trivial story–a governor goes on a short vacation alone–is actually a big story, but not because of the facts of the case. What makes it a big story is many people’s reaction to the fact that he left for a few days without announcing to the world where he was going. “Without a governor,” these people seemed to say, “how would the people of South Carolina cope?” There would be “chaos” and confusion. Those are their words, not mine.

It does seem to be the case that many people think that without a governor in charge, our lives would be in chaos. But ask yourself. How often through the day or even through the year do you consult the governor before taking action? You could argue that without the governor around, certain big spending or regulatory decisions would not be made. And that’s necessarily bad?

The thinking behind the headlines is the same as the thinking behind the claim that a governor runs a state or a president runs the country. Fortunately, they don’t. The headlines would be hilarious if not for the seriously distorted understanding of the world that it demonstrates.