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Biting Commentary

The Installation Are Well Under Way, Allegedly

By Richard B. Barger, ABC, APR

Originally Posted

"The airline says installation of door locks on its airplanes are well under way" -– NPR report.

It’s not the door locks or the airplanes that are well under way, you idiot! It’s the installation. And that, we hope, IS well under way.

Of course subject-verb agreement can be SOOO confusing, can’t they? Er, it. Particularly if we throw in a couple of little-bitty prepositional phrases.

But you might think that someone who speaks before millions of people each day -– okay, this is NPR; thousands of people –- might have learned at some point in, say, grade school, to construct a simple sentence.

It’s so much fun to pull out my "stupid reporter tricks" folder. It seems that some of the best bad examples were related to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Tragedy Is How the Media Report Barbarism

After the attacks, far too many public officials and reporters referred to the event as a "tragedy."

Now the results certainly were tragic, I’ll give you that. But that word puts too gentle a face on an intended act of mayhem.

It is a tragedy when a car crash kills a mother and her children, or when an avalanche wipes out a village, or when a church camp rowboat overturns and kids drown.

But to use a soothing word like tragedy for an act of intentional barbarism, as opposed to a random occurrence of fate or nature, takes into account neither the tone of the word nor the nature of the event. It shows, at the very least, a confusion of the horrible, controlled action with its aftermath.

Stinky, Fingerproof-Resistant Weapons

I heard an NPR piece about training air marshals in which the reporter, very full of herself, spoke of -– I kid you not –- "the smell of freshly fired bullets."

Tell me, is YOUR olfactory sense so acute that you know what a freshly fired bullet smells like? How, pray tell, is the aroma different than that of a bullet that was fired, say, 20 minutes ago?

How about referring to "the smell of gunpowder"?

In a different NPR piece, a reporter spoke of a handgun that had been marketed as "fingerproof-resistant." I suspect he probably meant fingerprint-resistant, but you couldn’t proof it by me.

Avoiding the Alleged Lawsuit

Reporters aren’t too swift on "alleged," either.

They’ve become so attuned to the potential lawsuit that they totally stop thinking. While Richard C. Reid may have been an alleged terrorist or an alleged bomber or an alleged deranged, half-witted son-of-a-bitch, it is ridiculous to say, "the explosive devices a man allegedly smuggled on board an aircraft," as in one report I heard.

No, some man actually smuggled or carried or brought explosive devices on board the aircraft. Unless you’re so much a product of the right-wing underground that you don’t believe ANYTHING that is said by law enforcement officials, that is a fact. Anyway, it was verified by independent witnesses, and that’s certainly good enough for any reporter I’ve ever met.

When properly used, "alleged" keeps the newspaper or network from convicting an individual before the courts have acted or from affecting the opinions of likely jurors. It also helps them avoid losing lawsuits if the person apprehended is eventually cleared of the crime.

Abandon All Thought, Ye Who Enter Here

But many reporters should take a refresher course on when and why to employ the term, for they obviously have ceased all actual thought, as they adopt the I’ll-use-alleged-every-time-a-fact-is-mentioned approach.

"He allegedly tried to ignite a fuse." Well, okay, this is a little closer call. Witnesses can disagree about the act they observed. It’s probably accurate to say, "he tried to light the fuse," because credible witnesses saw it. But good reporting would simply re-cast the sentence: "Witnesses said the man tried to ignite a fuse." That is a statement of fact, not an allegation.

The Alleged Incident HAPPENED, Dammit!

You can say Reid is alleged to be the perpetrator, okay. But A HUMAN BEING did these other things: A man smuggled explosive devices onto an aircraft; a man tried to ignite a fuse.

These incidents happened. That they occurred and were observed is FACT; they weren’t simply alleged.

When CNN reported that "several alleged hijackers lived in Trenton, N.J.," I asked a friend, whose opinions I usually respect, who they were trying to protect.

"They’re being responsible," she said. "It’s the concept of ‘presumed innocent until proven guilty.’"

Talk about your bleeding-heart Liberal! If I ever commit a crime, I certainly want my fuzzy-thinking friend on my jury. If she hadn’t been convinced that we know the identities of the terrorists with the massive media attention and incredible amount of evidence that already has been publicly disseminated, I’d say she’d be a sure "acquit" vote in my case, no matter HOW heinous my crime and overwhelming the evidence.

Too Much Communication May Not Be Enough

But my friend actually leads us to a valid communications point:



  1. Some people never see all your communications

  2. Of those that do, some folks don’t believe what you’re telling or showing them

  3. Even massive evidence is not enough for some people

That’s why the most efficient communications focus on target audience members whose actions, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and opinions are subject to influence. And that’s the point of most PR and business communications: To move publics from their starting point to someplace nearer where you want them.

Good communicators use multiple means, methods, and modes to move the message, because they understand that audiences’ attention spans vary and that different people acquire information in different ways.

Of course, you run into publics who seem to have committed to memory the gospel song, "I shall not be moved." Unless they have time and money to burn, top communicators don’t waste scarce resources on these folks who, either for good reasons or inexplicably, have chosen not to be moved.

And that, I allege, is a fact!
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