May 18, 2011

Angry at an adjective

Journalistically, sentences like this make me froth hatred and loathing:

"An Ellenwood mother has been charged with pointing a handgun at the owner of a day care center, during an alleged altercation over late fees."

Spot what's wrong with it?


This is the lead, the first sentence. It is a good solid lead. The reporter is someone I respect a lot: I would easily rank her as one of the very best and most reliable reporters in metro Atlanta. The story is a good story, one an old editor of mine would have called a "talker," meaning everyone will talk about it, and she dug up some really interesting, surprising stuff for a short little story.

But one thing about that sentence makes me rage. It happens again in the fourth paragraph:

"During the alleged confrontation, Hall sprayed pepper spray at Wynn, who retrieved a .380-caliber handgun and pointed it at her, police said."

Please. Pleasepleaseplease! What is it about the confrontation or altercation that is "alleged"?

The confrontation itself is NOT alleged. Everyone knows and agrees there was an altercation of some sort. No one is "charging" or "accusing" or "claiming" that the altercation itself happened. The question, the part that's going to have to be proven and so is, until then, just alleged, is what happened in that altercation and, to a lesser degree, what it was about.

The word -- a good word, a great word, really important to use! -- should be modifying the issue the altercation was about, and the details of what happened during the confrontation that everyone knows happened.

E.g.:
"An Ellenwood mother has been charged with pointing a handgun at the owner of a day care center, during an altercation allegedly over late fees."

Or (better):
"An Ellenwood mother has been charged with pointing a handgun at the owner of a day care center, allegedly during an altercation over late fees."

And:
"During the confrontation, Hall allegedly sprayed pepper spray at Wynn, who alleged retrieved a .380-caliber handgun and pointed it at her, police said."

Or (better):
"Police allege Hall sprayed pepper spray at Wynn, who alleged retrieved a .380-caliber handgun and pointed it at her during the confrontation."

As it stands, the story states the subject of the dispute and all the details about what happened as if they're proven facts, while making the dispute itself, THE ONE THING ALL PARTIES AGREE IS FACT!, is made to seem like maybe it didn't happen.

This doesn't seem terribly complicated to me. Surely we know this. It's easy to spot the difference between, say, "During his campaign, he allegedly lied 372 times," and, "During his alleged campaign, he lied 372 times." But I see this mistake all the time.

Seriously, all the time.

Don't even pretend you care. No one cares about this because, obviously, it doesn't matter. But I want to shout that they should. It changes everything where "allegedly" is in the sentence. To me, anyway.