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J'accuse

I let loose a good, round oath this morning as I read the newspaper, which contained an article with a reference to “one of the accused thieves.”

We’ve been here before. Let me quote myself from two summers ago:

The Associated Press has said in its stylebook since before the Dutch bought Manhattan that accused killer, accused murderer and similar constructions are forbidden.

The reason is simple. When you write "accused killer," you are identifying the person as a killer who happens to have been accused of the crime. In articles about sexual abuse of children by clergy, "accused priest" did not mean someone who had been accused of being a priest, but someone who was a priest who had been charged with a crime.

The rationale behind the reason is also simple. Newspapers should take seriously the presumption of innocence in criminal proceedings. It is not our business to convict people of crimes before judges and juries have acted.

The article today explained that the proceeding had ended in a mistrial, so there is not even the excuse of a conviction of guilt to justify the usage. And there should have been at least three points on the copy desk for someone to notice this and rectify it.

Let me quote myself again from two summers ago:

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:48 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Comments

When I worked at the Ledger Independent in Maysville,Ky., we had several cases of prisoners walking away from work detail or jail. Usually they would surrender in a day or two. The news editor Mary Ann Kearns, the greatest news editor ever, would get so angry with green reporters who would write that the prisoners "turned himself into police." "Which one," she would asked. "I hope it was one of the young ones. If your going to turn yourself into somthing might as well make it good."
I still see the phrase, but not in the Ledger, Not on Mary Ann's watch.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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