When the sorry, sorry history of this election year is written, the chief villains of the piece must be the press. You know how the TV and radio channels have enabled Donald Trump by letting him play by special rules — for example phoning in rather than appearing in person — because he goosed ratings. There’s a name for people who relax their standards for money, but never mind. And let’s not even get started on talk radio, Trump’s royal road to credibility with a part of the Republican electorate.
Today’s lesson concerns print. Several pieces have lamented the way the “tone” of the race has descended into the gutter. It’s so passive voice. Isn’t it awful the way the candidates have permitted the race to become tabloidized? You know what’s awful? That commentators and reporters cannot make elementary distinctions. Here, for example, is today’s NY Daily News: “Swamp Creatures: Trump and Cruz Dive Deep in the Sewer.” And here is today’s Washington Post:
At a moment when the party had hoped to turn its attention to a general-election matchup against Hillary Clinton, Republicans were instead caught in an uncomfortable back-and-forth over allegations of adultery and jabs at the physical appearance of the wives of Trump and Cruz.
Well, yes, it’s a back and forth. But it is crucial that there is an aggressor and a victim. Trump (exclusively Trump) shovels the garbage and flings the mire. When the victim brushes himself off and cries foul, he is said to be contributing to the low tone. The Post story is full of passive voice laments like “But every time the campaign seems to move toward higher ground, it slips back into the gutter.” No, it doesn’t slip. It is pushed. There is agency here. Is that so hard to convey?