Friday, January 2, 2009

metaphysics on board

Here is the start of an AP story:

There were 124 passengers on Northwest Airlines Flight 59 when it left the Netherlands. There were 125 when it landed in Boston.

Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for Logan International Airport, says a woman went into labor and gave birth to an apparently healthy baby girl over the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday during the eight-hour flight from Amsterdam.

The first paragraph (unwittingly?) takes a position on a rather contentious issue in politics, ethics, and metaphysics!

How many passengers were on the flight when it left the Netherlands? If you think that a fully-developed fetus is a person, then the answer is 125. If you think otherwise, then the answer is 124. The story appears to be taking sides.

I wonder if this occurred to the writer or editor at any point. Obviously the aim was to produce a punchy lede paragraph. But that’s not all that happened… You might say that this article was a human interest story when it took off, and a maneuver in the culture wars when it landed.

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