John Bicknell

Why are Politico pros employing the passive voice all of a sudden?

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In May I had a piece appear in The Federalist that was headlined “How Journalists Manipulate You Into Favoring Big Government.”

The gist was that through selective word choice, emphasis, framing and narrative, reporters who appear to be writing balanced stories are subtly attempting to guide the reader to a certain conclusion.

In the Federalist piece I cited several examples, many of which routinely turn up in stories in mainstream news outlet — when the reporter wants you to think spending on a government program is good, it’s called investment rather than spending; using loaded verbs like “slashed” or “gutted” when referring to spending cuts.

Now we have a new method: simple grammar.

Remember when Republicans were “threatening to shut down the government” over funding for Planned Parenthood?

Good, active-voice writing. We know who is acting and we know what they’re trying to do.

Unfortunately, now that it’s the Democrats who are threatening to shut down the government, it turns out that’s not what is happening at all. How odd.

Now, Politico tells us, “The federal government may shut down over a provision in the spending bill to rescue health benefits for retired coal miners.” (Link to story is here, which commits the same sin in a slightly different form; direct quote is from Politico’s Morning Shift labor newsletter.)

Magically, it might shut down. Nobody is acting. No group of people is trying to make it shut down, certainly not “threatening” to shut it down.

Nope. It’s just passively going to shut down, out of inattention. Or something.

These are professional journalists, who write for a living. They have professional editors. They know better than this.

Until this mindset ceases to dominate newsrooms, readers will continue to believe — correctly — that the people writing the news have an agenda, one that doesn’t necessarily comport with their own, or with what is actually going on.

 

 

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