Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who needs Fox when you have the Herald?

The Minefield of Im- partiality is es- pecially perilous for hed writers. There's the mandate to be com- pelling, on the one hand, and on another, there's the unfortunate law that the thing has to fit. Often, that means not just being concise, but being concise in units of no more than seven letters each.* People who can put the ship in the bottle night after night take a certain pride in that skill, and they deserve to.

It's the temptation, or the need, to cut corners that tends to entrap the unwary. In a statement like "It is asserted that X," the core concept that needs to be captured isn't "X" -- it's "assertion." The defendant in a murder trial isn't the "killer"; the underlying concept is "State asserts that N is the killer," for which we have convenient shorthands like "suspect" (or "defendant").

When you cut that corner -- assuming the truth of the assertion -- you're more or less automatically stacking the deck. Sometimes that goes unremarked. Heds might assert that some development is "good news" for the city or region, or that some particular meteorological pattern makes for "great weather," regardless of whether some contradictory condition (like a steady week of rain) would be better for all concerned.

Things are usually different in political discourse, which is one reason Fox News looks so distinctive. Heds like the one at upper right -- "Here's the proof" -- reflect a basic Fox presupposition: Anything the Bush administration asserts in the course of the Global War On Terror is true by definition. Here, Pakistan is offering one version of events, and Washington is countering with what it says is evidence of a contrary version. In Fox World, the latter counts as "proof."**

That said, consider the Miami Herald's lead story today: "Case builds for military strike on Iran." A hed that said "talk" about an attack, or "pressure" for an attack, was increasing would be a straightforward observation, but there's an assumption built into the hed as published. "Building" the case requires not just more assertions, but more assertions that count for evidence. That's where the paper slips from reporting on a worldview to buying into the worldview -- and, in this case, where the Herald becomes regrettably hard to tell from the more overt propaganda on offer over at Fox.

Too bad, because this is a relevant story that McClatchy did a good job of pulling together. The N&O offers a wiser tack on the hed: "A strike on Iran? The talk is growing louder."

* Or, as we used to say in the good old days when regional newspapers actually carried international news on the front: "If 'Palestinian' didn't fit in a 1/36 yesterday, what makes you think it's going to fit in a 1/36 today?"
** The BBC hedded its story "US releases border strike footage" and offers this bit of context in the story: "The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says it is unusual for the US to release video footage of its operations and indicates that the military has come under great pressure to justify the airstrike."

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2 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

"The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says it is unusual for the US to release video footage of its operations and indicates that the military has come under great pressure to justify the airstrike."

That's an interesting sentence. Is it Patience who "indicates"? Or is it "it"?

Must find BBC story...

3:14 PM, June 12, 2008  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Found it but ... hmmm ... Looks as though Patience is indeed doing the indicating. But there's nothing more.

3:19 PM, June 12, 2008  

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