"Allegedly" is a crutch
Late last night, at that time when the editor’s eyes ache from hours of staring at low-grade prose and the traitorous thought flickers across the mind that the game might not be worth the candle, @trudishaffer tweeted, “Sigh. I think I'm fighting a losing battle against ‘allegedly.’”
I immediately urged her to stand firm, and a number of stalwarts have chimed in. If the young ones give up the struggle, we’re all doomed.*
Even the obsessive-compulsive’s Holy Book, the Associated Press Stylebook, advises against over-reliance on alleged and allegedly. You can tell from its strictures what kind of nonsense writers are prone to engage in: “Do not use alleged to describe an event that is known to have occurred. ...”
There appears to be a prevalent misunderstanding that sprinkling copy with allegedly, as one grates Parmesan over pasta, protects against libel. But a more reliable protection against libel is simply to be clear and specific about who is making the allegation: “according to charging documents,” “a police spokesman said,” “the indictment charges that,” “a witness told police,” “in testimony at trial,” or the like.
You should only resort to alleged when it is not established as fact that the action or crime took place. There may or may not have been a bribe or a sexual assault. But even there you will want to be careful; if you write about an alleged rape, you risk appearing skeptical rather than neutral.
Throw away the crutch and walk on your own feet.
*I myself continue to reach for the cuffs over suspects in crime stories. You know, “The suspects fled the scene after the shooting.” No, you only have suspects when the authorities identify someone they are looking for. Until then, you might have gunmen, or shooters, or even, God help up, perpetrators, but they aren’t yet suspects. Should I say alleged suspects?