Within a half-hour, the two leading trumpet-blowers of the blogosphere have favoured us with their interpretations of the latest developments in the Bill English accomodation saga, and their headlines are marvellous. Both are factual; neither contain any misleading or false information, and yet they convey such different things.
First (chronologically), in the red corner: The Standard:
- “English”, formal, invoking his role and status as a public personage and the head of a noted family (who also benefit from the ‘rort’).
- “admits”, an implied concession of wrongdoing (even though English’s statement — not linked or substantively quoted in the post– makes quite clear that he’s conceding nothing of the sort).
- “he” and “us”, an active phrasing emphasising the power dynamic in play, in which “we” are being exploited by “him”.
- “rorted”, a hugely fashionable term in these parts nowadays (a fact on which someone recently wrote an interesting article; can anyone remember who?). It’s a strong, colourful term redolent of the back-slapping corruptness of entitlement, viewed as harmless and trivial by those privileged few who, by dint of social station, connections or wealth are able to perpetrate it, and as an insufferable reminder of greedy injustice by those not so able. This is the word it all hangs on: it provokes the visceral reaction of disgust, and divides the “him” from the “us”.
- “[has] been” and the past tense throughout, focusing on what has happened. In some ways represents a softening: he has been, but he isn’t any more. But in the wider context this emphasises the ongoing nature of the campaign against English, an unspoken “see, we were right all along, and we have forced this admission” — again, despite the fact that English claims there’s no such admission. Being backward-looking, it focuses on the matter of principle, not of practice; it doesn’t matter that he paid the proceeds of his rort back, what matters is that he rorted it in the first place.
And in the blue corner, Kiwiblog:
- Parsimonious, omitting a part of speech which in this case would bear important information, leaving the question open: “his” allowance? “the” allowance? We don’t know if the author thinks he has a right to it or not. It’s just “allowance”.
- “Bill”, informal, emphasising his individuality and personal characteristics rather than social roles or position. Familiarity suggests reliability, trustworthiness.
- “pays back”, active phrasing indicating Bill’s volition — he was not forced into anything, he did it of his own accord. Also echoes the Nats’ favoured cat-call of the past half-decade: “pay it back!”, first directed at Helen Clark, then at Winston Peters, a clear delineation drawn because Bill is paying it back and they didn’t.
- “allowance”, something one is allowed. As in the other headline, this is the word it all hangs on. Its use implicitly disclaims any wrongdoing; because it’s impossible to ‘rort’ an ‘allowance’ by definition, this begs the question of whether Bill is, in fact, allowed it.
- “pays” and use of present tense throughout, focusing on the future rather than the past, practicalities rather than principles, actions and consequences rather than character or trustworthiness. No harm, no foul, right?
With headlines like this, why would you even need to read the article — or the actual statement?