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Oracle Corp., the primary developer responsible for setting up Oregon’s Obamacare health-insurance exchange website, sued the state claiming it’s owed $23 million.

The lawsuit escalates a dispute with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, who in May asked the state attorney general to take legal action against the company in an attempt to recoup the state’s payments.

Kitzhaber, a 67-year-old Democrat who has come under political attack on the issue as he seeks a fourth term, has been trading blame with Oracle over the failure to create a website that Oregonians could use to enroll in health coverage under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Technical flaws in the Cover Oregon website, the portal to a $305 million state-run insurance exchange, caused thousands of consumers to file paper applications until the state gave up in April and directed enrollees to the federal website.

-- Oracle Sues Oregon for $23 Million Over Health Exchange Claims Source

I'm wondering why the simple present tense is used in this context. I would use escalated and is seeking instead.

Besides, I think could is used hypothetically here, because the website couldn't be created due to technical flaws. It's a conditional possibility, not a factual possibility, am I right?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

These uses of the simple present are very common—almost obligatory—in journalism. CGEL in fact calls it the 'hot news' present: it is a stylistic choice, which implies that the facts reported are so recent that they may be treated as happening right before your eyes.

The could here is not 'hypothetical' but the simple past of can: it positions the assessment of capability in the past. If the website had been successful the same form would be used: "The contract called for Oracle to create a website which Oregonians could use to enroll."

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So why "sued" in the first paragraph? –  Kinzle B Aug 10 at 11:39
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@ZhanlongZheng Yes, that is odd: I would expect has sued there. Perhaps it is a typo. Note, by the way, that the headline has simple present sues. –  StoneyB Aug 10 at 12:15
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As a side note, this distinction between "sued" and "has sued" (and yes, the former is inappropriate here), while something that would warrant docking points on a grammar test, is not particularly noteworthy to Bloomberg's audience (investors, their peons, competing businesses, etc.), since the idea being communicated is more or less intact - Oracle is now involved in a lawsuit with Oregon for a substantial bit of money over a contract that went sideways. –  Samuel Lijin Aug 10 at 15:52
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The act of suing has already occurred, but the lawsuit is ongoing. –  ssdecontrol Aug 10 at 20:58
    
I find it interesting to see the title written in the historical present, but the summary is in the past tenses, and then the story itself switches back to the historical present again. :) –  Damkerng T. Aug 11 at 1:03

The lawsuit escalates a dispute...

This can be understood (as an alternative to @StoneyB's interpretation) to mean that escalating the dispute is what the lawsuit in question does, by its nature.

...as he seeks a fourth term...

This can't be changed to

...as he is seeking a fourth term...

because, though grammatical, it would have a different meaning. The way it is written in the article, it means "at the same time as he is seeking a fourth term". With "is seeking", it means "because he is seeking a fourth term".

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Why does "is seeking" coerce a reading of "because he is seeking a fourth term"? –  Kinzle B Aug 10 at 13:44

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