Monday, July 31, 2006

And the scorpion said ...

... well, enough with the well-worn conventional wisdom of the Near East.* But it's a handy reminder of why heds need to avoid confusing the word with the deed, no matter how tight the count, and no matter how urgent the pressure to be perky:

Israel halts bombings
But Lebanon ground campaign continues
JERUSALEM - Israel agreed late Sunday to suspend its aerial bombardment of southern Lebanon for 48 hours after an attack on a house in the village of Qana killed at least 54 civilians, most of them children.

U.S. State Department officials announced the suspension after a tense day in which U.S. officials for the first time appeared unhappy over the turn of events in Lebanon.

Agreeing to do something, it should go without saying by now, is not the same thing as doing it (why a Washington writer covering a State Department story gets a Jerusalem dateline is another issue). The NYT stayed on safer ground by using the participial form:

Israel Suspending Lebanon Air Raids After Dozens Die
Israel agreed to suspend its airstrikes for 48 hours while it investigates an air raid on a Lebanese town that killed dozens, many of them children.

the traditional wisdom being that "is suspending" leaves you more wiggle room: It describes a process (declaration through deed) rather than an outcome (deed). It's not the revealed gospel, but it certainly looks more cautious in light of this from the Beeb's most recent update:

But less than a day after the agreement, Israeli planes bombed parts of southern Lebanon.

Suffice it to say that there's not much point in even starting the media bias debate -- being handled ineptly at many or most major news outlets, if you're in a shopping mood -- if we can't get the 1A heds in tune with events.

* The scorpion's punch line being "It's the Middle East." You can make it a Northern Ireland joke too, but i forget which sort of fauna you need to involve.