The adjacent image shows what can happen when weak news subject matter leads to a disjointed report, and a worse promotional link.

The headline plays up how respondents to a new poll say Wal-Mart is the institution that best symbolizes America. The text below, which we newsies call a “teaser,” cites two completely different poll findings, about taxes and Twitter. The thumbnail photo alongside? George Clooney.

Not knowing any better, one might ask: What does Clooney have to do with Wal-Mart? What do either have to do with taxes or Twitter?

The Associated Press story behind this teaser describes results of a poll commissioned by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair, asking Americans' opinions on a broad swath of trend-spotting subject matter. The poll's lack of focus gets a big chunk of the blame — out of all those questions, what do you focus on first? Then I'd wonder why The AP chose to write a lead paragraph focusing on two unrelated findings, then a headline about something not mentioned for three paragraphs.

Clooney? He's in paragraph 7. So either humans at The AP or machines at Yahoo! picked out his mug to run with this story.

I'm scratching my head. Generally, I find “mood-of-the-nation” polls particularly weak subject matter, since the topics pollsters choose seem geared more to ensure good-for-the-pollster-business pieces like this than any actual understanding of people. But I saw this teaser only because it runs at the moment atop Yahoo!'s “Most Viewed” list.

I can, thus, draw one conclusion about the mood of the nation: we apparently are in the mood to read stories about polls trying to measure our mood.