Readers misled by headlines using passive voice

The Rocky website just posted an AP article about this faux outrage from the Republicans over Gwen Ifill.
Here’s the headline: “Questions raised about VP debate moderator Ifill’s impartiality” 
File this sentence in drawer with other cliches of Washington-speak such as Bush’s statement that ’mistakes were made’ in Iraq.
As we know, Bush was the one who made his own mistakes in Iraq.  Similarly, the questions about Ifill weren’t raised in a vacuum.  It was Republicans raising them.  Newspapers should say so.
It’s a bad habit of the press that they crouch in the passive voice, probably as a token show of ‘objectivity,’ or possibly as a way of chickening out.  In the latter case, editors may be afraid of assigning responsibility to somebody in the story, perhaps out of concern that they’ll offend some politically charged hack.
Plus, we know that headline space shouldn’t have been a problem.
For example:
Original Headline
“Questions raised about VP debate moderator Ifill’s impartiality” 
Words: 8 
Characters with spaces:  63 
  
Possible Alternatives
“GOP Raises Questions about VP debate moderator’s impartiality” 
Words: 8 
Characters with spaces: 61 
  
“GOP Raises Questions about VP debate moderator Ifill” 
Words: 8 
Characters with spaces: 52

2 Responses to “Readers misled by headlines using passive voice”

  1. bmenezes Says:

    The biggest problem with passive voice in this headline is it conceals the fact that the story itself only mentioned ONE conservative — the known whacko Michelle Malkin — as raising this question. The other conservative it quoted, John McCain, SUPPORTS Gwen Ifill as moderator.

    It is in fact, as you put it, a faux story.

    Further, the piece not only elevates one of Malkin’s nonsensical screeds to the level of “news,” it also entirely omits that CBS’s Bob Schieffer — who has said he’s a personal friend of George W. Bush — moderated one of Bush’s 2004 debates. That’s pretty significant context if one wants to raise the issue of moderator “impartiality,” and neither the Rocky nor AP included it in this article.

  2. conewsaddict Says:

    Passive voice is used by print media because the story is a historical record. You don’t know when it is going to be read and could be read weeks or months after it is written. It’s standard AP style — nothing to do with “objectivity.”

    Headlines are short. You can’t tell all facets of the story in a headline. “Questions raised” is accurate. The story explains who raised the questions.

    Much better than radio and TV artificially “forcing” present tense, such as “A man dies when his car rolled” (even though it happened 12 hours ago.

Leave a Reply




You must be logged in to post a comment.