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May 2017

Press deploys its worst bureaucratese against Portland's anti-Muslim killer, Constitution-burning mayor

A horrible example of the passive voice obscuring life-or-death questions in the classic "bureaucratic style", from the AP in the Washington Post, the paper I was born and raised on and really expected better from:

"Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, and Ricky John Best, 53, were killed Friday as they tried to stop Jeremy Joseph Christian from harassing the women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, authorities say. Another who stepped in was seriously injured."

The passive-voice obfuscation makes one wonder if the killer was this "Christian" guy, police, other Muslims, or someone else whom the writer doesn't want you to think about. Only way down deep in the story, in a quotation, do we learn who did what:

"And then we turned around while they were fighting, and he just started stabbing people, and it was just blood everywhere, and we just started running for our lives."

Even that doesn't say who started the physical fighting, or who was fighting. That quotation is the first specific first description of anything physical. Then there's this:

"A day before the attack, cellphone video confirmed by police Sgt. Pete Simpson shows Christian using expletives as he rants about Muslims, Christians and Jews on a train."

It would be interesting to know if he was ranting for or against Christians and Jews. But at least they left in what's really important, the fact that he used profanity and the name of the police officer who confirmed the video. And then:


"The mayor says his main concern was participants 'coming to peddle a message of hatred,' saying hate speech is not protected by the Constitution."

Um, that last gerund is a grave accusation against the mayor, saying he expressed beliefs that disqualify him from active citizenship, not just from holding public office. So I think he deserves to have what he actually said quoted. (When I read the evolving story, the headline was about that. The characterization of his anti-American beliefs is accurate, though. See "‘Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment,’ Portland mayor says. He’s wrong." byKristine Phillips in the Post)

The story is by Martha Bellisle of the AP. ("Portland mayor aims to nix free-speech rally, fears 'hatred'" -
By MARTHA BELLISLE, Associated Press). But the AP and Post editors are both independently responsible either for creating this dog's-breakfast or for not fixing it so that it delivers the news.

For more on the bureaucratic style and all the important questions it intentionally obscures, see "The Elements of Bureaucratic Style" by Colin DickeyMy own small contribution to that analysis is "When the people who had all the power say the victim forced them to use force ...".

Postscript: As if all that wasn't Orwellian enough, the Post  link this was about now points to a Post AP story with a different headline and  byline, with the first thing I complained about now totally fixed, and other major topics removed:

Portland uneasy; suspect shouts ‘you’ve got no safe place!’

May 30 at 7:53 PM

. . . "Authorities say Jeremy Joseph Christian started verbally abusing two young women, including one wearing a hijab. When three men on the train intervened, police say, Christian attacked them, killing two and wounding one."