Tuesday, July 02, 2002
Conditions of Fact; Conditions of Result

Today's New York Times has this story on the civilian deaths in Afghanistan that may or may not be due to a bomb dropped by US aircraft. One paragraph reads:

In either case, if the estimates proved accurate, the episode would be one of the worst instances of civilian casualties in the nine-month war in Afghanistan. If an American bomb is found to be responsible, it could strain relations with the new government in Kabul.

The first sentence is a simple conditional of fact. If accurate estimates, then worst casualties. The second sentence is a more subtle conditional of consequences. In fact, it's a double conditional: If US was responsible, then relationships with Kabul could suffer. But the story doesn't include any evidence whatsoever of those conditional negative consequences for the relationship between the US and Afghan governments.

It would seem responsible to indicate, at least qualitatively, the degree to which that relationship is likely to suffer as a consequence of whatever happened having been US responsibility. A probable outcome and a likely outcome can be vastly different things. Being unable to distinguish between the two works against journalistic integrity.