Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Alleged Pirate Story of Falcon Lake

By this time, most of us have heard about the Mexican bandits shooting David Hartley on his jet ski as he and his wife Tiffany tried to get away. She returned for him amidst the gunfire; but was unable to pull his body up on her jet ski. She further related that as the bandits grew nearer, she feared for her own life, left her husband behind, and went to seek help from the U.S. side.

According to the press, the story would read something like:
The American couple, knowing full well that it is dangerous to visit Mexico, disregarded all warnings for a sight-seeing tour. Tiffany Hartley returned by herself because she and her husband were allegedly ambushed and fired upon by Mexican "pirates". All the facts point to her coming back without her husband with no witnesses to confirm her alleged story. It is well known that criminal enterprises operate in the area, so it would be very easy to commit a crime and blame the poor, innocent pirates.

I embellished a bit to make a point. The word, "alleged" started being used in news as a de rigeur word in criminal cases, even when the person under investigation or indictment publicly committed a crime with many witnesses. This is because the person has not been convicted of a crime. Writers use "allegedly" up to the point where the criminal is convicted. Most importantly, it protects the news outlet from being sued for defamation by implying that somebody was guilty of a crime before being tried in court. At that point, the suspect becomes a convicted criminal or found not guilty.

In the case of the Hartleys, there is no trial. Mrs. Hartley is not under investigation or suspicion. We can't prosecute the Mexican bandits who committed the crime. And, it is unlikely the criminals who did it will sue any news outlet for defamation. In other words, other than what she says, there is no story. We can't seek justice for what happened in another country. The ball is in Mexico's court.

When you use "allegedly" in a story that is not justiciable, you are effectively saying that you doubt the story of the witness, whose only desire, at this point, is to retrieve her husband's body. It appears is that the press is jaded; they obviously don't believe her story and are afraid to outright say it. It is much easier to throw in an "alleged" or "allegedly" to cast doubt on the victim.

Think of it this way:
Fred liked to climb up the sides of buildings without safety gear. On October 1st, 200 onlookers state that he allegedly climbed up a building and fell off to his death as he neared the top.

How is that alleged? Fred can't be prosecuted. The incident can be investigated; but, it's not justiciable. He's definitely not going to sue for defamation. Furthermore, the witnesses all agree on what happened.

Yes, there is always a possibility that the Hartley story was made up; however, law enforcement has not made any indications that they consider Tiffany a suspect. Until that happens, all these implied allegations have no basis. Furthermore, it detracts from the urgency of finding David Hartley's body and bringing him home. It's looking for a story where none exists yet.

If there is a story, it will come out. Be patient. Until then, using "alleged" for this story makes you an ass for piling on and for not putting real thought into your choice of words.
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