Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cartooning Associated Press Headlines, and Defending the Passive Voice

The AP has a story on yahoo this morning about the sad death from swine flu of a child in Texas. It really is too bad, and hopefully there won't be any others.

As the United States grappled with this widening health crisis, [acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Richard] Besser went from network to network Wednesday morning to give an update on what the Obama administration is doing. He said authorities essentially are still "trying to learn more about this strain of the flu." His appearances as Germany reported its first cases of swine flu infection, with three victims.

"It's very important that people take their concern and channel it into action," Besser said, adding that "it is crucial that people understand what they need to do if symptoms appear.

That's all well and good, I suppose, but the headline the AP chose to grab peoples' attention seems a bit unfortunate to me:

Officials confront first US death from swine flu

The use of the active voice is a bit awkward here. The officials are actually being confronted by the first US death from swine flu. It's not like they have a choice in the matter. All we can do is try to defend ourselves against the swine flu- it's not like the swine flu is "drugs," or "poverty," or "terror," and we can just declare a "war" on it. Perhaps, "Officials confronted by first US death from swine flu" would have been better. Anyway, the headline conjured in my mind the following unfortunate image:

How are they confronting "death"? "Death" is not an actual entity, so I'm left to believe they're confronting the dead person.

This is a good lesson for aspiring headline-writers. Despite the fact that college professors often frown upon it, sometimes the passive voice is the way to go.

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