This business of diplomacy is all about nuance.
Aside from, perhaps, the Federal Reserve, there may be no place in Washington where more is done with winks and nods, and reporters are required to read the tea leaves.
So I groaned when I picked up the New York Times this week and discovered that Hillary Clinton had "struck a sharper tone toward Israel" in her confirmation hearing.
I was at that hearing, reporting for GlobalPost.com. What had I missed?
I remember Clinton saying that the incoming Obama administration was upset by the "tragic humanitarian costs" suffered by both Israelis and Palestinians. And that the suffering must "increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement."
How, I wondered, could these boilerplate phrases represent "a sharper tone" toward Israel?
The Times explained: "Her emphasis on the civilian costs of the violence in Gaza suggested that the incoming administration might be more inclined than President Bush has been to urge restraint on the Israelis."
Hmmm. "Suggested." "Might."
So, if I get this right, any mention by an American official of human suffering in the Middle East is a rebuke of Israel—even if the Israelis are included among the suffering humans.
I turned to the Washington Post. Surely its expert reporters would further explain.
But, no, the account in the Post said that the "dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy" conveyed by Clinton was not her being tough on Israel—it was her declaration to "engage directly" with Iran.
Wait a minute. Obama has been saying this for months. I went back to the Times where I found—not a word about the "dramatic" shift in U.S. policy toward Iran.
Back to the Pos t. Not a word about striking a sharper tone toward Israel.
Indeed, the Post went out of its way to declare that Clinton had struck no new tone regarding Israel and, if anything, had reaffirmed a tough U.S. stance against Hamas.
I poured another cup of coffee.
And concluded that I'm feeling much better about covering diplomacy.