Thursday, September 14, 2006

This just in - another wire-service conviction

Yes, it truly is time saving when the AP dispenses with a trial:

State troopers say they have arrested a man who struck and killed a pedestrian last weekend and drove off without calling for help.

Could we at least get "who is alleged to have struck ... and to have driven" in there?

Why does this kind of stuff get me upset? Because it's a small but creeping breakdown in basic civility. I don't care what you think of the person -- someday he or she could be on your jury. Let's all respect each other by observing the niceties, huh?

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At 9/14/06, 10:33 PM, Blogger Bill said...

You don't think the "say" covers it?

At 9/14/06, 10:56 PM, Blogger fev said...

That's certainly the traditional presumption (I've made it more than a few dozen times myself). I'm no longer so convinced, mostly because it's trying to cover two sharply distinct levels of knowledge: the arrest, which presumably the cops know, and the guy's guilt, which they don't and can't.

Shortest solution is to move the attribution off the arrest, which ought to be verifiable, and onto the more severe accusation: "State troopers have arrested a man who they say ...". Longer term, cop reporters shouldn't be allowed into the field unsupervised until they can diagram subordinate clauses. Grr.

At 9/15/06, 11:05 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

I agree with Fev. I think the way the typical person parses it is this: The cops say they're arrested this guy ... he did this -- not the cops say they arrested this guy and they say he did this.

The "who" clause here does not really attach back to say. Making it leap past the noun to the original attribution is risky.

At 9/16/06, 4:09 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I see your point, but I would be less comfortable doubling up on the hedges -- putting the "who is alleged to have" part in the police officials' mouth, when they are highly unlikely to have qualified things that way. It's pretty close to the "police say he allegedly ..." wording that makes us all groan.

On Fev's solution, I'm not sure how the verifiability of the arrest leaves us off the hook when it comes to attributing it -- it may be a silly convention, but the convention is that we attribute such things, unless perhaps the writer witnessed the arrest.

At 9/18/06, 9:45 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Agreed it's a tough nut. The perfect example of Ruth Walker's definition that "Editing is often the point at which the irresistible push for shorter, simpler ways of saying things meets the immovable object of the need for standards, accuracy, and precision."

Maybe the best wording is: State troopers say they have arrested a man and charged him with killing a pedestrian in a hit-and-run accident last weekend.

I'm not the biggest fan of the "arrested and charged" format, but it has its uses. (And the purists would say "But the charge isn't 'killing a pedestrian.'" Well, pshaw.)

At 10/2/06, 6:49 AM, Anonymous tolovemoon said...

I have been thinking about this one for way too long...
I have to share my thoughts to change this.. I understand the problem here is hard to change unless there is another solution acceptable by changing the original into two statements instead of one.
Anyways, my idea was to change the "say"
to another word like reply, remark, verbalize, announce, or explain, then use the end like this "A man has been arrested with the charge of" then the act of crime.
Please forgive me as I may be naive to the concepts of journaling for news stories. I am trying... Peace.


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