Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Aggressive Passive

Beware of the passive voice! On Tuesday's Morning Edition NPR reports on the activities of the Parsons Co. in Iraq. In a brief report on the failed effort by Parsons to refurbish 20 hospitals and the US Army Corps of Engineers subsequent cancellation of the contract, Renee Montagne says, "American efforts to improve Iraq's failed health care system are seen as a way to show ordinary Iraqis that the invasion three years ago is helping improve their lives." One could spend a lot of time unpacking this interesting statement. I had to listen to the report several times to be sure that she wasn't quoting the Army Corps spokesperson--she wasn't. It was simply an editorial statement. Notice the heavy use of the passive and what it does and doesn't communicate. "Iraq's failed health care system"--that's a soft way to describe it: nothing there about the ravages of 10 years of draconian UN/US sanctions, nothing about the attacks on power and water sytems launched by the US during the 1991 and current war on Iraq, and nothing on the hugely corrupt and bungled work of the Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. This passive whitewash is followed by the passive use of "are seen" to describe American efforts. Are seen by who? Not me, thanks. And probably not by most Iraqis. It's amazing how effective this little minute-long report from NPR is at turning the truth completely on its head--and no one's to blame!

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