Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mailbag: Don't do this either

Here's a query from distant climes: "Care for another lecture on 'arrested for' vs. 'charged with'?"

Yes, and it's a short one: Don't.

"Arrested for" is a gatekeeper question -- a way of telling whether you were paying attention back in your callow youth. I got the sermon on (literally) my first night on the job: Close on time and never say "arrested for." The AP's explanation suggests why, trivial as it might seem, we still like to be picky about the matter: "To avoid any suggestion that someone is being judged before a trial, do not use a phrase such as arrested for killing."

No, no one's saying you'll be hit in the face with a libel judgment the second you walk out the door. Paris Hilton doesn't read  your paper, she has better things to do than suing you, she's on the bubble of being an all-purpose public figure anyway, and if push came to shove, you could probably invoke "substantial truth" or something.* But we will judge you by how well you tie off your loose ends. Remember what Updike said about Ted Williams: "The classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill."

We'd rather you didn't say "Vegas" and "busted" in heds, sure. And it'd be nice if you gave your work at least the cursory read that would have caught the typo; in this font, you can't tell "HIlton" from "Hllton." That's your problem. "Busted for" means you don't respect the game, and that's our problem.**

* As in the Michigan Supreme Court's ruling that a report saying someone had been "charged," when he'd been arrested "on suspicion" though not charged, wasn't libelous. Here's the NYT's account.
** Quick, name the building behind the bull. What a great little park that was.

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Blogger John Cowan said...

I think this is a shibboleth whose time has gone. Nowadays it's rather rare to arrest anyone without sufficient evidence to charge them, and charges (or release) must follow quickly on arrest, so arrested is tantamount to charged.

3:09 PM, August 29, 2010  

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