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Passive-Aggressive Media 'Emerged' Bernie Sanders' Civil Rights Arrest Photo

SCOTT OTT JOURNALISM CLINIC: LESSON #373

In journalism school (Penn State '83) I learned to write in the active voice and to avoid passivity. Active sentences attract readers, and carry them through the story. The headline -- a truncated version of the story -- seduces the eye, beckons the mind and therefore needs the active voice even more.

So, this Chicago Tribune headline struck me like a door left ajar.

Chicago Tribune, Feb. 20, 2016

That's right -- a photo "emerged."

It bubbled up from the boiling, roiling Tribune archives. One imagines this happens with some regularity as the magma-like acetate churns, spewing out random images day by day.

Coincidentally, this "emerged" photo captured the moment that a young civil rights activist, who happens to be running for president of the United States now, got dragged off to the pokey in the midst of a protest.

The black-and-white image appeared like Brigadoon from the mist just a week before the Democratic South Carolina primary.

Hillary Clinton's campaign touts that contest as her "firewall," after she felt "the Bern" in Iowa and New Hampshire. She's slated to win big in the South because black voters reportedly love the Clintons and have never heard of Sanders, the blanched senator from the ivory state of Vermont.

Hillary Clinton's reputation as "a fighter" for black people arrives at her doorstep unearned. Bernie Sanders actually owns a substantive record of civil rights activism.

But this story isn't about Bernie or Hillary. It's about the Chicago Tribune's passive-aggressive reporting.

Take this sentence, for example, that appears in the second paragraph.

An acetate negative of the photo was found in the Tribune's archives, said Marianne Mather, a Chicago Tribune photo editor.

Note how Ms. Mather didn't hunt for the picture, nor did she produce it at the request of another, but she merely "said" it "was found."

Who found it? Why? How? Who knows? What difference at this point does it make? Let's move on...