Yesterday on the NPR hourly newscast the lead-in to the barefoot bandit story was this “A man allegedly known as the barefoot bandit…” Perhaps I had too much time on my hands (I had a doctor’s appointment and they always go like this: Step 1) you are 30 minutes too early Step 2) please wait for an additional hour in a room with no AT&T reception Step 3) Stop wasting our time, your blood pressure is 120 over 70, go away and never come back) but this struck me as a strange way to phrase it.
Journalists apparently have a self-imposed rule that suspects should be “alleged” to have done whatever they are suspected of, at least until they are convicted. Presumably this is to avoid prejudging guilt. Now, since this guy was just picked up, the rule applies and he is “allegedly” something. But allegedly what? “Allegedly known as the barefoot bandit.” Is it a crime to be known as the barefoot bandit? And is that what he is accused of?
OK, there were some crimes committed and all of these crimes are thought to have been committed by the same person and that, so far unidentified, person has been given a proxy identity “the barefoot bandit.” Now we are trying to find the barefoot bandit. The linguistic complication is that since “the barefoot bandit” is not a real identity you cannot say that someone “is” the barefoot bandit. Whoever this criminal is, he is “AKA (*also* known as) the barefoot bandit.” We are not literally looking for someone who is called the barefoot bandit, as if that by itself is a crime. We are looking for the person who committed the crimes which have been grouped together by that heading.
So we are looking for the person who (not by his own choice has come to be) “known as the barefoot bandit.” And now we have to somehow fit the “allegedly” in there in order to comply with the journalistic moral code. That’s the problem and the NPR copyeditor seems to have just stuck them together without trying to parse the final product.
Probably he didn’t have the spare time afforded by a futile doctor’s appointment. Or if he did, he had no iPhone reception to make the necessary changes before the newscast went live.