Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Innocent? Or Not Guilty?

Some chatter around here about the Providence Journal’s banner headline after two local business execs were acquitted in a high-profile corruption trial proclaiming them “innocent”. Yes, the actual legal term is the less-exculpatory “Not guilty”, but the “innocent” tag has it’s roots in journalistic tradition. Here’s how it was explained to me in my reporting days: back when newspapers were printed with letters or entire words “inked” on little blocks of lead, newsrooms used “innocent” because if the “not” block (of “not guilty”) fell out or malfunctioned during printing, the headline in the next edition would say that the acquitted was “guilty”. There you have it.

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