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Baby killers

I briefly dabbled in professional journalism earlier in my career, and took several courses in writing in college. The single most important stylistic lesson I learned was that the passive voice should be eschewed. (Yes, irony intended.)

The passive voice is the voice of weakness. It is the form used when one wishes to distance the actor from the action. The biggest example has to be the current hot phrase among politicians in trouble: "mistakes were made."

A while ago, Meryl Yourish noted something odd about media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis killed Palestinians, while others "died" or "were killed."

It's a subtle thing, but a significant distinction. As Meryl points out, the active voice is the more powerful, more accusatory, more direct form, while the passive voice is that of minimizing, of excusing, of downplaying. It's a wonderful way of applying bias without being too flagrant; the two versions are defensible as equally true, yet the impact of the two versions is, as my old writing teacher used to quote, "the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug."

Well, Meryl's observation is still going strong. This morning's Boston Globe features a Reuters dispatch from the Palestinian Territories that could not give clearer proof.

Gaza boy, 2, dies in clash of Hamas, Fatah forces

GAZA CITY -- A Palestinian child was killed by gunfire in Gaza yesterday, medical officials said, as Fatah and Hamas fighters clashed in a second straight day of factional violence since the formation of a unity government.


Medical officials said the 2-year-old boy was killed and a female relative was wounded by gunfire as Hamas and Fatah gunmen clashed in northern Gaza. There was no comment from either side on the killing.

That bad, evil, naughty gunfire. It went off on its own and killed that little boy. It must have wandered away while the Hamas terrorists and the Fatah terrorists were duking it out nearby. How careless of them.

Let me rewrite that to balance the Reuters story out a bit:

Terrorists fight, kill baby in Northern Gaza

Terrorists from Fatah and Hamas -- the governing parties of the Palestinian Authority -- fought in northern Gaza yesterday, killing a two-year-old boy. The terrorists shot the boy and a female relative during the second day of open warfare after Hamas and Fatah formed a unified government, an agreement based on the principle of "let's stop killing each other and go back to killing the Jews."

Neither side would admit to killing the boy, and declined comment until they could find a way to blame his death on the Jews. At that point, they will give him a name, release cute photos of him, call him a martyr, and turn his funeral into a demonstration of Jew-hatred and cries of vengeance against the Zionists.

Yeah, it's as biased as the Reuters version, but it has two advantages: First off, it's a bit more open about its bias. Secondly, it's far more accurate.


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Comments (25)

It's not more accurate. The... (Below threshold)

It's not more accurate. The passive voice was being used in the first report because it was not clear if it was Hamas or Fatah gunfire that killed the voice.

Unlike you, the media (and the US, and Europe, and Israel) distinguish between the two.

Given that there was no subject to head the sentence (as you demonstrate when you're forced to substitute "terrorists" to get active voice), the passive makes plenty of sence in this case.

Fine, Jason, substitute "gu... (Below threshold)

Fine, Jason, substitute "gunmen from Fatah and Hamas." Does that make any difference?

Not one damned bit.


I would personally go for "... (Below threshold)

I would personally go for "Gunmen killed the child in their crossfire, though it was unclear which party was responsible" or something like that.

Hey , take it easy with t... (Below threshold)
Rob LA Ca.:

Hey , take it easy with the FMG.

Hey , take it easy with t... (Below threshold)
Rob LA Ca.:

Hey , take it easy with the FNG.

The Democrat Media woul... (Below threshold)
Rob LA Ca.:

The Democrat Media would rewrite that to read:

Our brave young children continue to die in the crossfire in what is clearly now , a civil war...a quagmire ... a blank stupid look on Pelosi's face.lol

"When will we all wake up, ... (Below threshold)

"When will we all wake up, nuke'em into next week and cut the head off the snake, while we are there lets grab our "good friends" the syrians too"

Shorter Jay and Rob:<... (Below threshold)

Shorter Jay and Rob:

Why can't the media be paint a more negative picture of these fucking wogs?

Jason, the passive voice is... (Below threshold)

Jason, the passive voice is used to downplay the death of a Palestinian child at Palestinian hands. As someone who has been reading the press about Israel for the past five years, I can say with confidence that Jay's absolutely correct here.

Don't believe me? Then read this post. Or this one.

Even the headlines show the bias. Look at the difference between the two paragraphs in this story from January. Notice the different wording used to describe the IDF and the terrorists.

10 Palestinians killed in raid, clashes RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Israeli undercover troops burst into a West Bank vegetable market Thursday, seizing four fugitives and exchanging heavy fire with Palestinians in the first major raid since the Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to try to ease tensions.

Factional fighting among Palestinian groups also surged, leaving at least six dead and prompting a meeting early Friday between rival leaders _ President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Haniyeh said the two sides agreed to pull back their forces.

It is not Jay's imagination, nor mine. It is not using the passive voice for a lack of clarity. The language used to describe Israeli actions is far more violent, vehement, and tinged with breathless excitement for every action than the language used to describe Palestinian violence.

The language used to describe the terrorists shooting indiscriminately into a crowd? "A baby died." "A bystander was wounded." "Several bystanders were hurt."

That isn't what they say when the IDF accidentally shoots bystanders. It is a clear bias of the mainstream media against Israel, and as I say, I've been tracking it for years. You want evidence? Read my archives.

Shorter MyPetGloat: I can't... (Below threshold)

Shorter MyPetGloat: I can't read.

Don't blame the Sand Amish ... (Below threshold)

Don't blame the Sand Amish for what they do. There must have been a Joo or two somewhere we can pin it on.

Why can't the medi... (Below threshold)
Why can't the media be paint a more negative picture of these fucking wogs?

The first good question I've ever seen you post MyPetGloat.

Why can't they seem to paint a more negative picture of Palestinian terrorists?

Bending over backwards to t... (Below threshold)
fea nicks:

Bending over backwards to turn reason on its head, Wizbangs' wannabee philosopher fails to notice the deluge of stories over time about Palestinian terrorists' bombings and killings of Israelis as opposed to all the incidents of Israeli" retaliations" in the West Bank & Gaza where "collateral" damage happens, just like shit happens.

fea nicks,If only ... (Below threshold)

fea nicks,

If only I could manage your impeccable prose and ferocious wit.

You don't have to even be intelligent to notice the difference in grammar and vocabulary used to describe each side. So what's your excuse?

Not to mention, while you c... (Below threshold)

Not to mention, while you charge others for 'turning reason on its head', you fail absolutely at addressing the subject:


Not quantity.

Heralder, it's obvious that... (Below threshold)

Heralder, it's obvious that fea nicks hasn't got a leg to stand on, which is why he resorted to ignoring the evidence and throwing around uncited accusations.

They'll just say Allah is p... (Below threshold)

They'll just say Allah is pleased and has granted the child martyr status. They'll blame it on each other and won't waste another moment thinking about it.

Meryl,That's prett... (Below threshold)


That's pretty much standard for him.

Sometimes that's what it takes to be unfailingly against everything posted here.

Great site by the way.

It's easy to play with acti... (Below threshold)

It's easy to play with active and passive. I discovered that when I had the job to take notes of the cadet officer meetings in AFROTC in college. If someone complained about another person, it went passive. If someone volunteered for a task or someone got complimented, it went active. It wasn't decieving, I took notes on everything and recorded everything, but I was emphasizing good stuff, and while the bad stuff was laid out there in nice detail it was less accusatory, less personal, than it could have been.

And much more recently I've had an article I wrote edited by a lady with a journaism degree. It's not that I didn't write in an active voice, but she still changed my verbs to stronger, more colorful verbs. It wasn't worth complaining about, but I did wonder at the changes because the stronger, more colorful verbs were not always accurate. They were exaggerations. "Run" is not the same as "sprint" for instance.

From Meryl's example, "burst" is not the same as "entered".

You almost had a reasonable... (Below threshold)

You almost had a reasonable post, with the exception of miraculously turning a 2 year old into a "baby".

biarnless 2 years old is no... (Below threshold)

biarnless 2 years old is not a baby? Wonder if it comes under the min. wage law? How many hours a day can "it" work? Sheeze you are an idiot.

Wow, you don't even know wh... (Below threshold)

Wow, you don't even know what a baby is, jhow? I guess we now have proof that you're subhuman.

Yes folks JT reveals to us ... (Below threshold)
Richard Burns:

Yes folks JT reveals to us all the fine art of manipulation. Manipulation 101. The left does it, the right does it. Everybody does it whether intentionally, like Jay, or unintentionally through bias. See, I knew Jay was skilled in salesmanship. I have told you all, after he "dabbled" in pro. journalism, he went to work for the Shoe Barn.

LOL!!!LOL!!!Bendin... (Below threshold)
Richard Burns:


Bending over backwards to turn reason on its head, Wizbangs' wannabee philosopher fails to notice the deluge of stories over time about Palestinian terrorists' bombings and killings of Israelis as opposed to all the incidents of Israeli" retaliations" in the West Bank & Gaza where "collateral" damage happens, just like shit happens.

Excellent Jay!... (Below threshold)

Excellent Jay!






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