Friday, June 23, 2006

Potpourri of hed sins

Today's post brings a variety of headline evils, each illustrating a different way a hed writer can be lured to perdition by the Slinking Whisperer:

Mistrial declared in death via tainted breast milk
A judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the case of a woman accused of killing her baby by nursing with methamphetamine-contaminated breast milk, a district attorney's spokeswoman said.
If the jury doesn't convict, the copydesk shouldn't either. The hed rules that the death was caused by tainted breast milk, as the state appears to have alleged. But the defense disagrees ("One of her lawyers said Thursday in a phone interview that the baby's death was caused by pneumonia and not drugs"), and it looks as if the legal system does too. Moral: No long-distance diagnosis. You can't complain about Bill Frist's doing it if you turn around and do it yourselves.

Soldiers may have died in gunfight
BROWNSVILLE, Texas - A relative of one of the two U.S. soldiers who may have been tortured to death in Iraq last week said Thursday that military officials told his family that the men probably died in a gunfight and the abuse of their bodies happened later.
Two points. First, don't use "may" heds for stories about assertions, and second, if you do, try to stick to one "may" per news unit (for these purposes, hed and text). The hed says the soldiers "may" have died in a gun battle, meaning one relative says the military told him that was likely. The lede says they "may" have been tortured to death, apparently meaning that's been the official story to date. Rather than bouncing back and forth between two bits of apparently contradictory (but still both equally true) speculation, get to the point: One relative says the military is contradicting its official line.
(While we're at it, let's get rid of the whole WAR & TERROR DIGEST concept -- not to mention the logo. If you don't want readers to think you can't tell the concepts apart, a good place to start is by telling the concepts apart.)

Senate rejects moves to end action in Iraq
The GOP-controlled Senate gave an election-year endorsement to President Bush's Iraq policy on Thursday, soundly rejecting Democratic demands to withdraw troops from the three-year-old war that has grown increasingly unpopular.
This one's called "overscope": An assertion that's true about part of the predicate is extended to all of it, and the hed fails. There's no category of "kind of true" for heds; "true" and "false" are the only choices. For the hed to be true, more than one "move" would have to have been rejected, and all the rejected moves would have been to "end action in Iraq." One of them would have, sort of, but the other "would not have set a deadline for the end of the U.S. presence in Iraq" (at least if we're to believe the story under the hed).

The hed would have been fine if it had said two moves to withdraw troops had been rejected; as Resolution 242 reminds us, failing to specify how much withdrawal you mean is a really useful fig leaf. But an out-and-out end to action has no such cover.

Cardinals' offense keeps on Rolen
OK. For those who missed the sermon in J4400, heds that play off athletes' names are forbidden under all circumstances. Why? Well, for lots of reasons, but mostly because they're meaningless. A hed like "Cardinals' offense keeps on Rolen" could be trotted out at any point in Mr. Rolen's career with the Birds of Satan, regardless of what the story beneath might say. Skeptics out there might wish to consider, for example, how the two papers in town handled his arrival some years back:

Missourian: Cardinals are Rolen
Trib: Cards keep Rolen along

If you aren't tired of this one -- or "Wright Stuff," or any of the millions of others the Whisperer might tempt you with -- yet, trust Uncle HEADSUP-L: Your readers are.


Blogger AMac said...

A Google search just brought me to the 2003 Missouri J-School paper, "'That man of ours in Tokyo': The Midway code scandal, the press, and national security." Excellent backgrounder: the most well-written and informative piece I've seen about the mostly-forgotten history of JN-25 and the Chicago Tribune. Thanks for agreeing to have Prof. Davis keep it reachable on the web!

This figured into a comments thread at the web-log Winds of Change on this week's NYT/LAT exposure of the SWIFT financial tracking program.

10:25 PM, June 24, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Tnx for the kind note. I wish the link was to the final version, in which the sloppy citations were cleaned up, but I always sort of liked that paper. It hasn't been accepted anywhere yet, but ...

11:30 PM, June 24, 2006  

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