Using passive voice for moral neutrality

It drives me crazy when I read a headline that says “3 die in bombing” and it turns out that one of the three people was the suicide bomber himself.

Instead, how about “2 killed,” or better yet, “2 murdered?”

The press often writes headlines in a way that imply that the suicide bomber just happened to be there and accidentally got killed like everyone else. But his death is not morally equivalent to the victims of the bombing. He is a murderer.

Murderers don’t deserve to get counted. They’re not victims; they’re criminals.

By using the passive voice, newspapers claim that they’re being objective. But really, what’s so subjective about condeming murder? There are moral absolutes in this world.

4 thoughts on “Using passive voice for moral neutrality”

  1. The press isn’t supposed to be about “moral judgements”, but about presenting facts, nothing more, and letting the reader decide.

    What to you is a murderer might to someone else be a soldier, or a martyr. It’s better for the headline to be “bias-neutral”.

  2. Actually, “3 die in bombing” is active and intransitive, not passive. “3 killed in bombing” would be passive. I don’t really think there’s any moral judgement in either of these headlines, though. How else could the headline be written?

    “2 die, 1 dies in bombing”?

    “2 killed, 1 dies in bombing?”

    Much more interesting, in my opinion, is the phrase “morally equivalent”, which you used in your post and which is very popular these days. What exactly does it mean? For instance, when Saddam Hussein challenged Bush to a debate on live TV before the war, the White House responded that this could never happen because it would suggest that Hussein and Bush were “morally equivalent”.

    This raises the question, who else might or might not be “morally equivalent”? My guess is that “we” can never be morally equivalent to “them”. To be so would rob us of the moral superiority that we need in order to kill “them” in comfort.

  3. Gee, write an exciting headline and your dinged for biased sensationalism.

    Write a bland headline and cranks on the Internet demand their easy access to emotional provocation.

    There’s no pleasing some people.

    Mad props to gchei for the fat Rhetorical skillz. w00t!

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