Thursday, April 21, 2016

Attribution and agency

The passive voice gets a lot of stick (often from people or agencies who have trouble telling passive from active at better than coin-toss consistency), but verb voice is only part of the fun when it comes to assigning responsibility and blame in headlines. The active voice is a clear choice here, because Greta's point is that the divider-in-chief just can't stop dividing:

The Obama administration did it again, went stupid, and went stupid for no reason.

It's not that Greta has a problem with women: "You all know some of my best friends are Negresses I'm a feminist -- love to see women acknowledged for the great things they contribute to our nation." The problem is that the usurper and his minions picked a fight, "a 100% completely unnecessary fight, by booting President Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill and replacing him with a woman." And it would have been so easy to fix:

Rather than dividing the country between those who happen to like the tradition of our currency and want President Andrew Jackson to stay put and those who want to put a woman on a bill, it's so easy to keep everyone happy. We could put a woman on a bill ... but give Tubman her own bill. Like a $25 bill. We could use a $25 bill! Put her picture on that and we could all celebrate. That's the smart and easy thing to do. ... But some people don't think and would rather gratuitously stir up conflict in the nation.

That's pretty much all active, because you need to remember who's to blame for all this. Much as with this headline from last week's Washington Times:

Once the Kenyan comes into the picture, you don't even have to spend any time wondering when the former head of the Armed Services Committee became a "liberal politician." Or, apparently, doing the arithmetic:

In a new report privately delivered to lawmakers, the Congressional Research Service did an extensive examination this winter and found that, of 318 Medal of Honor recipients in the Navy and Marine Corps, 100 have had a ship named after them; the large majority of them — 186 — have not.

But enough subtraction. Here's another active hed, from the New York Post:
Who's the mysterious actor engaged in this skulduggery?

In its report on the still-censored “28 pages” implicating the Saudi government in 9/11, “60 Minutes” last weekend said the Saudi role in the attacks has been “soft-pedaled” to protect America’s delicate alliance with the oil-rich kingdom.

Damn passive voice. What about the third graf?

... Actually, the kingdom’s involvement was deliberately covered up at the highest levels of our government. And the coverup goes beyond locking up 28 pages of the Saudi report in a vault in the US Capitol basement. Investigations were throttled. Co-conspirators were let off the hook.

I get one active clause out of four there, and its subject is "the coverup." That's kind of the pattern in the next five grafs, in which the subjects of active clauses are agents, detectives, sources, information, pages and investigators. When we get back to the bad guys, the active voice goes away:

Yet time and time again, they were called off from pursuing leads. A common excuse was “diplomatic immunity.”

Long about the eighth graf, we get some active verbs with agency:

An investigator who worked with the JTTF in Washington complained that instead of investigating Bandar, the US government protected him — literally. He said the State Department assigned a security detail to help guard Bandar not only at the embassy, but also at his McLean, Va., mansion.

Is that kind of pointing to ... the executive branch? Well, note what happens at about the halfway point of the epic:

But Bandar held sway over the FBI.

After he met on Sept. 13, 2001, with President Bush in the White House, where the two old family friends shared cigars on the Truman Balcony, the FBI evacuated dozens of Saudi officials from multiple cities, including at least one Osama bin Laden family member on the terror watch list. Instead of interrogating the Saudis, FBI agents acted as security escorts for them, even though it was known at the time that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Weird. The chief executive -- you know, the president -- shows up, but only as the object of a preposition. His residence takes over, passively and actively, in the next graf:

“The FBI was thwarted from interviewing the Saudis we wanted to interview by the White House,” said former FBI agent Mark Rossini, who was involved in the investigation of al Qaeda and the hijackers. The White House “let them off the hook.”

I'm not one to claim that books can't say and buildings can't talk, but at some point we might be entitled to ask who exactly was making "the US" and "the White House" do these awful things. Fortunately, it's still the Kenyan's fault:

“Things that should have been done at the time were not done,” said Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican who’s introduced a bill demanding President Obama release the 28 pages. “I’m trying to give you an answer without being too explicit.”

If you're thinking about locking Com8000 into your fall schedule, that's why we do discourse analysis. Verb voice is a great bar game, but the fun really begins when you look at who's doing the acting or the acting-upon.

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