"But sure to end on a note of optimism"

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When newspapers publish one of those stories on a controversial issue in which all sides get their say, they like to wrap up the debate with someone who takes the long view. This long view may be an uncertain forecast to what the future will actually bring, but it's a helpful guide to the predilections of the newspaper.

For instance, the New York Times on Monday carried a reaction piece on the repeal of the Pentagon's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. The article ended:

An Army officer who is now leading troops in Afghanistan said he expected that swift and stern disciplinary measures would stamp out harassment. But he said he still anticipated that many openly gay soldiers would feel alienated at first from their straight colleagues.

“They will not be going to all of the events, strip clubs and bars that the other soldiers attend, and soldiers will almost certainly not be going out of their way to sample the gay culture,” the officer said in an e-mail. “The first gay men (as the infantry is all male) are going to need very thick skins.”

A third officer just back from Afghanistan said he would not be surprised if some combat soldiers in small outposts wanted to sleep separately from openly gay troops. But this officer emphasized that what would truly earn acceptance for gay troops would be fighting well.

“Honestly, what I care about is how good a gunner they are,” he said. “If an individual is performing well on the battlefield, people won’t care.”

I'm not sure why I thought twice about this when I read it. It's what I think — this might take a little while but things will work out fine. It's what the Times, institutionally, thinks. It's what all people of good will think — no?

But what if the story had ended this way?

A third officer just back from Afghanistan said he would not be surprised if some combat soldiers in small outposts wanted to sleep separately from openly gay troops. But this officer emphasized that what would truly earn acceptance for gay troops would be fighting well.

“Honestly, what I care about is how good a gunner they are,” he said. “If an individual is performing well on the battlefield, people won’t care.”

But an Army officer now leading troops in Afghanistan was less sanguine. He said he expected that swift and stern disciplinary measures would stamp out harassment. Yet he anticipated that many openly gay soldiers would feel alienated at first from their straight colleagues.

“They will not be going to all of the events, strip clubs and bars that the other soldiers attend, and soldiers will almost certainly not be going out of their way to sample the gay culture,” the officer said in an e-mail. “The first gay men (as the infantry is all male) are going to need very thick skins.”

Same facts. same story. Seriously different message to the reader. Is there any reason why the second ending is journalistically inferior to the first, other than the fact it's not as hopeful?

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