Sometimes when I’m teaching students about passive voice I use the following example:
The decision was made to raise tuition.
I ask them, who made the decision? Of course they have some guesses, but eventually we determine that the point is, you can’t actually tell from the sentence.
In “The Elements of Bureaucratic Style,” Colin Dickey examines United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’ recent use of language that obfuscates and minimizes the airline’s own responsibility for an incident where security dragged a passenger off the plane, while simultaneously implying that the passenger was an active agent in his own violent takedown. This goes beyond the passive voice and employs something he calls the bureaucratic voice:
We tend to think of the purpose of style guides as helping students to write clearer and more effectively. But increasingly, the far more important side of composition pedagogy is teaching students how to read. And teaching students how to spot and decipher the bureaucratic voice must become an essential skill.
The very best dissection of this phenomenon I’ve seen is Vijith Assar’s “An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar” (McSweeney’s). The last line, while not unexpected, is a sharp blow.