Friday, November 6, 2009

It's English, you Dummies

I used to believe that journalists, by nature of their jobs, would need more than just a rudimentary knowledge of English. I used to believe that they would need strength and depth in vocabulary. I guess my assumptions are no longer correct, if I'm to judge by the reporting of the Fort Hood shooting incident.

Over 300 soldiers were standing in line when a Major, a psychiatrist, opened fire. There were also others around as well. The shooting spree lasted three minutes, until a civilian police officer shot at the perpetrator and wounded him. During that time two things happened: one, people standing all around saw the shooter shooting and two, those closest to him heard him say "Alahu Akbar" before he commenced shooting.

So how are the media reporting this incident? They're tap dancing all around it, in an effort to be "fair" and "unbiased." They are talking about the "alleged" shooter, the "purported" shooter, the "possible suspect" and the "suspected" shooter. Excuse me? This isn't a judicial matter, a shooting that took place in a secluded venue with no witnesses, therefore with no 100% identifiable perpetrator. There are witnesses up the wazoo here. This was a public shooting, a public massacre. There are hundreds of witnesses. The shooter was shot down with the gun in his hand, a gun that will, with no doubt whatsoever, test out forensically as the weapon used in the murders.

The reporters have no problem in saying this is the worst mass killing ever to take place on a US military base. The have no problem calling it a killing rampage. They have been giving an exact timeline for how the events unfolded. They certainly have mentioned the Major's name dozens of times. But is he guilty of actually having shot someone? That they don't say, won't say.

Our President was quoted as follows."We don't know all the answers yet. And I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all the facts," Obama said in a statement.

Let's see, he had a gun in his hand, he opened fire in a crowded area, he kept shooting, one of those who was herself wounded wounded him and suddenly the shooting stopped. You remember that old one about the duck? If it quacks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, and it looks like a duck, then by golly it just might be a duck.

Addendum to original posting: Look at the title of this posting and you can see that I consider the problem in the reporting as an "English" problem. The word alleged has two meanings that are diametrically opposed: 1)to assert without proof, doubtful, suspect, supposed and 2) to declare with positiveness. Using alleged allows the papers an out. Depending on who or what they are defending themselves against, they can claim that they said the shooter definitely was the shooter or the shooter wasn't definitely the shooter. Using purported also gives them an out--"to present, esp. deliberately, the appearance of being; profess or claim, often falsely."


NonymousG said...

His religion hardly came into as well... Given he shouted "Allahu Akbar", that seems odd. Btw I sent you an e-mail asking how to deit the comments section to say "Don't be anonymous! Give yourself some sort of usertag so we can identify you as a sentient being and not just another anonymous blob. It's hard to converse with blobs."

Sam said...

And this surprises you? All the papers are in competition to get the story and get it first. They just don't want to commit to saying anything definite until someone else says it's definite.

I was once watching a reporter reporting about a hurricane that was going on. His clothes were being blown half off of him and he could barely stand up straight. There was glass obviously all over the ground. And he said that it was possible that the storm was causing major structural damage to buildings in the area--only possible.

Shades of Grey said...

The level of PC-ness that America has reached with regard to talking about legitimate problems with "supposed extremists" etc who "happen" to be Muslim is ridiculous. I totally agree with you. The liberal media continues to discredit itself (and lambast Israel, too).

JS said...

I think it's just become the norm to use "alleged" and "purported" no matter what the circumstances are when referring to a suspect in a crime. And that's another one: "suspect." We don't suspect him of committing the crime, we know he committed it! The words, collectively, seem to be taking on a new meaning. Namely, "the person accused of committing this crime."

I think most of the caution had to do with whether this was terrorism or whether it was religiously motivated (note that the two are not the same).

mhz said...

Being newspapers, discussing what is essentially a legal matter, they're using the legal definition of 'allegedly,' which is presumed innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. This is slightly different than the good ol' English definition.

Purported or alleged can both be used here in their original sense as well – because their entire reports are based on what others have told them – witnesses not being considered solid proof in the real world.

ProfK said...

It doesn't become a legal matter until a charge is laid. Until that time it is "news"--the bailiwick of a newspaper. An investigation, in and of itself, is not a legal proceeding, although it may lead to one or have its results used in one. That being the case, alleged is not being used in a legal sense but in the ordinary sense of the language.

Re the witnesses not being solid proof, since when? Witnesses are routinely called in other legal proceedings, so why should all the witnesses in this one suddenly be considered unreliable? In addition, there are people who were present at the time of the attack who have recordings and pictures that were taken.

What is being investigated so carefully is the possible terror connection. That may yet be proven to be true or false--that the Major opened fire and killed all those people is a fact not under investigation. Even the media have not raised the possibility that there were two or more shooters or that the Major wasn't the shooter.

So no, he is not the alleged shooter--he is the shooter in fact.