The Corner

Press Passivity

A writer with whom I spoke about two weeks ago pointed out a very interesting trend in the press reporting and political commentary about the war on terrorism.  All too often, reporters and politicians use the passive voice.  Take British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett in yesterday’s USA Today: “”It’s widely argued now that the existence of the camp is as much a radicalizing and discrediting influence as it is a safeguard for security.”  Well, who argues? A McClatchy story yesterday read, “Nearly 2,700 Iraqi civilians were killed in the city in September.”  Well, who killed them?  Baathist insurgents or Iranian-backed militias?  If the public read that Iranian-backed militias killed nearly 2700 civilians, we might be less willing to reward their murderers.  From today’s New York Times: “Most of the 500 municipal workers who have been killed here since 2005 have been trash collectors.”  Again, someone did the killing.  Why hide it?  It’s important to know what we are up against.  I’d submit two conclusions:  Journalists do not use the active voice because they do not know the subject of the action—in which case their editors should send them back to ask tough questions—or the editors wish to absolve the subjects for political reasons.  Either way, it’s poor journalism and irresponsible punditry.  Sorry to be a grammar nerd, but it’s time to have a passive voice watch.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.