While recycling some old newspapers, I found this odd headline in a Contra Costa Times
from Dec. 18:
Bush is told U.S., allies not winning.
Not losing, just not winning? What does that mean
? I thought combat war was generally seen as a zero-sum game until you withdrew, and that in the case of zero-sum games our beautiful English language has a precise word for not winning: losing
. The article is mostly background, and it seems the news
was that intelligence officials from three different agencies (CIA, Defense, and State) have informed Bush that we aren't "winning." Presumably the reason these officials then felt the need to anonymously talk to three Knight Ridder reporters (Warren P. Strobel, John Walcott, & Jonathan S. Landay) is that they didn't feel their message got across through normal administrative channels.
The San Jose Mercury News, another local Knight Ridder paper which serves a slightly less conservative audience, headlined their version
of the article: Insurgency is working, 3 agencies warn Bush
. South Mississippi's Sun Herald
CIA, State Department tell Bush the coalition isn't winning the war
definition of "to warn": "1. To make aware in advance
of actual or potential harm, danger, or evil. " Emphasis mine. Isn't this more "informing"?
The Philly Inquirer
: Bush is warned of insurgency's power over vote.
Ah, okay. We're in advance of the election. But "power over vote" doesn't really convey the ability to make a city's entire electoral commision resign
. (Though to be fair that hadn't happened yet when these headlines were written and the resignations may have been reversed/overreported. But still.)
In journalism school we were always told to pay extra special attention to the lede (the first sentence) because that is essentially what makes the reader decide to whether or not to read the rest of the article. I always thought this a little unfair: what really makes the reader decide to readan article is the headline
, and even if they don't read the article, that's what informs their impression of the day's news. And, of course, reporters don't write headlines, editors do.