ClickZ LogoA few weeks ago – shortly after the election – the Pew Hispanic Center released a study with a bombshell of a headline, the kind that digital marketing professionals take great care to craft because, if done right, the results can be huge: “National Latino Leader? The Job is Open.”

As with most great headlines, the facts of the story were framed for effect. The Pew study, based on a recent survey of 1,375 U.S. Latinos, had found that nearly two thirds could not answer when asked to name the person they consider “the most important Latino leader in the country today.” Second most popular answer? “No one.” Of course, there are many ways to interpret these numbers. But Pew’s headline swiftly spawned hundreds of similar headlines – on columns, blogs, and yes, on Twitter – which is all about headlines – for stories debating whether Latinos even need a single national leader. (We’re too diverse. And, by the way, what other ethnic groups have “national leaders”?) And yes, people are still writing. It was a great result for a minor survey. The “Leaderless Latinos” debate has legs, as they say in the entertainment business.

For the headline, you can’t really blame the editors at Pew. It’s what they do. It’s hard to get anyone to focus on real research in the new “attention economy.” Still, there’s something important that’s missing in this story, as reported both by Pew and the many people who have so far weighed in. The great “Leaderless Latinos” debate has ignored the conditions in which mass movements get started, and leaders are made, particularly when the groups they represent are so complex and diverse. And there’s no better case study than the Tea Party, as unseemly or unsavory as that might seem to some, but perhaps not all Latinos.

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