“Allegedly” makes me twitchy

Saw this headline in my daily news feed today:

Allegedly

I’m a convert from the Church of “Allegedly” after I had a conversation with a legal eagle at a student media conference years ago. He explained the concept of privilege as one crime reporters should use, attributing allegations of crime to police, court officers and others who enjoyed absolute privilege in their statements. I asked about the word “allegedly” as a shortcut past that and he responded:

“The word ‘allegedly’ is why libel lawyers can afford a second yacht.”

His point, albeit hyperbolic, was that “allegedly” offers you no legal protection as a writer. It’s a thinly veiled accusation that isn’t bolstered by an official-sounding -ly word. Anyone accused of anything by anybody can be “allegedly” involved in something. If you get mad at a professor when you fail a class and you spread a rumor that he’s running an illegal arms-smuggling operation out of his campus office, he’s now an “alleged arms-smuggler.” It’s WHO is doing the alleging and the amount of factual support behind the allegation that matters.

This is why the lead on the story is a much better way to go:

An argument turned deadly Sunday night on Madison’s North Side, as a man shot his friend to death then turned the gun on himself, police said.

Attribute the information to the police (a privileged source in most places). That way, you protect yourself and support your argument in a much better way.

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