Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Dreary Political Reporting from the LA Times's Richard Simon

Repeal of Estate Tax Is Latest GOP Initiative to Die in Senate

Some still hope to reach a compromise, but Republican legislation is having a hard time amid the election-year partisanship.
By Richard Simon, LA Times Staff Writer

This piece of template political reporting illustrates the dolor of the genre. The diction is porridge. Passive verbs abound. Sentences metastasize.

Repeal of the estate tax, which applies to large inheritances and affects a small segment of the population, was waylaid on a procedural vote.

One stylistic blight is passive verbs. Overuse of these signals that the writer doesn’t want to take responsibility for what he says; that he is uncertain; or that he thinks that passive voice sounds more disinterested and judicious than active voice. He may also be as lazy as a hog and not want to bother with clarity. Whatever the cause, a pile-up of passive verbs produces flabby writing. The reader doesn’t learn who executes the action because the writer hides the culprit behind a passive verb. This disguising the actor accounts for the political ubiquity of passive verbs. The reporters who cover politics catch the disease.

Edit into active voice of above “repeal” sentence:

“A Senate procedural vote waylaid estate-tax repeal. This tax applies only to large inheritances and a small segment of the population.”

On Wednesday, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage — a key priority for social conservatives, who are influential within the GOP — was blocked.

“On Wednesday Tom Delay and Dennis Hastert blocked a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages— priority for GOP influential social conservatives.”

Similarly, a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning is expected to be debated — and then shunted aside — later this month.

“Similarly, Klingons will debate and then shunt aside a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.”

About 12,600 estates will be taxed this year, according to the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Doctor Who will tax about 12,600 estates this year says the Tax Policy Center….

In 2011, the tax is to be reimposed on estates valued over $1 million, and the top rate would revert to 55%.

In 2011 Martians will reimpose the tax on estates….

But in 2011, it will revert to the rate that existed before the cutback was enacted.

But in 2011, it will revert to the rate existing before the Hittites enacted it.

Within hours of Thursday's vote, Republicans were distributing statements attacking Democrats as obstructionists.

Progressive verbs sound hand-wringing. The distribution must have finished. Use simple tense for cleaner sentences unless the verb describes action in progress.

Democrats have countered that voters want Congress to deal with other issues, such as gasoline prices and the federal budget deficit, rather than repealing a tax expected to apply to less than 1% of the people who die in 2006. 40 words

Any writer except Proust who inflicts a 40-word sentence on readers about taxes needs flogging. When loosed from the village flogging post, he should write this: “Democrats countered that voters want Congress to deal with issues such as gas prices and the federal budget deficit. They insisted voters don’t care about repealing a tax that affects less than one percent of people who die in 2006.”

He contended that Democratic resistance to repealing the estate tax was part of a strategy to "keep the Senate from achieving anything" in hopes Republicans would "get the blame for not producing results." 33 words

“He contended Democratic resistance to repealing estate tax formed part of a strategy. ‘They want to keep the Senate from achieving anything’ so Republicans ‘get the blame for no results.’”

“In hopes” is such a forlorn cliché that any writer should purge it from his vocabulary.

“We're bullheaded or we wouldn't be here," said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

A comma goes after “bullheaded.” A writer who writes this badly has no claim to waiving comma rules.

But striking a deal will be difficult in an election year, especially with Democrats hoping to take control of at least one chamber of Congress in November's vote.

If Le Richard clings to the locution, he must put an apostrophe after “Democrats” for plural possessive before a gerund. Better, he should revise. “Striking a deal will be difficult in an election year when Democrats hope November’s vote gives them control of at least one chamber of Congress.”

John Tierney:

The White House refused to discuss Mr. Libby's account, or say whether it differed with Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney's recollections of events, which the two men described in interviews with prosecutors.

Don’t use a comma between a compound verb. “Recollections” is separate, not joint, possession; so “Mr. Bush” should be “Mr. Bush’s.”

King Canute at the BorderBy JOHN TIERNEYWhether you welcome more immigrants, or whether you'drather see fewer, there's no point in commanding the tideto ebb.

Don’t separate two dependent clauses with a comma.

Giving up your life for the Ivy League
By Karin Klein, KARIN KLEIN is a Times editorial writer.March 26, 2006

ALL WE DID was meet with the high school guidance counselor, but I can't help feeling that I've sold my son down a river called "The Rat Race to a Top College." It feels like an awfully cold and swift choice for a 15-year-old kid, heading in one narrow direction.

The “heading” present participial phrase is restrictive, so the writer should not cut if off with a comma. The writer refers to “a 15-year-old kid. She doesn’t identify him as her son with a “my fifteen-year-old-kid.”

Washington's Classic Exit: A Defiant Spin Out the Door
Libby Copeland
"Don't feel badly for me," the self-described "fighter" said. "I've changed people's lives."

The writer gives Torricelli sarcastic quotation marks around “fighter.” But she lets him get away with "badly" following “feel,” a linking verb followed by an adverb, not an adjective. This writer does not recognize the worse error and does not insert "sic" after "badly." Toricelli's sentence should be "Don't feel bad for me."

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