June 15, 2024

Alleged Suspect

News organizations are careful to avoid suggesting the guilt of persons not convicted in a court of law. Thus, news reports often refer to “alleged” miscreants.

ABC News ran a video story on its Web site yesterday over the headline “13-year-old girl sexually assaulted at knifepoint in NYC park: Police.” The story made it clear that the police and the girl involved asserted that certain things happened. On ABC’s nightly newscast today, ABC reported that police were searching for the “alleged assault suspect.” My initial reaction to this phrase was that the use of “alleged” is unnecessary. A suspect is, after all, only someone thought to have possibly committed a crime. Police are seeking an actual assault suspect, not someone alleged to be an actual assault suspect. (Alleged by whom?) One is either a suspect or not. Being a suspect does not imply guilt.

On reflection, I began to question whether I had parsed “alleged assault suspect” properly, Perhaps, the police are looking for a suspect in an alleged assault, not assuming that the reported assault actually happened. This is a reasonable interpretation but likely not the correct one, as earlier reports suggested that the police have taken as fact that an assault actually occurred. The New York Times also framed its story by what the police asserted. Details of the story suggest, however, that the police may have physical evidence that has led them to conclude that the story told by the girl is substantially true.

I may be thinking about the phrasing used by ABC more that its reporters and editors did. Probably, “alleged” was unnecessary. It may have been added just to be safe, however.

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