It's newspaper-style puzzler time. As a journalist, I know why we are supposed to use the word "alleged" over and over in crime stories. The accused is not guilty until his or her trial has been completed.
Now, this drumbeat use of "alleged" may drive readers crazy -- as in the "pilots who allegedly flew the planes into the two towers" -- but it is a linguistic device that represents an important legal reality.
However, I have to admit that a twist in the language that frames the following Los Angeles Times report drives me a bit nuts, as in, more nutty than usual. Yes, it's about THAT STORY from the world of allegedly high fashion. Here's the top of the report:
As Paris Fashion Week began ... there was only one thing anyone could talk about.
The venerable French haute couture house of Christian Dior, credited with putting Paris fashion back on the map after World War II, was rocked in scandal. John Galliano, the flamboyant fashion designer at the helm of the luxury label, and a man known for his over-the-top runway collections, romanticism and love of the bias cut, was being fired. Not because of a collection of clothes but because of a collection of words.
The fast-moving chain of events began ... when Galliano was arrested in the Paris bar La Perle, accused of hurling anti-Semitic insults at a nearby couple in an alleged violation of French laws designed to curb anti-Semitism. Dior, where he's worked for nearly 15 years, suspended him Friday pending investigation. ... (A)nother woman came forward with a similar complaint. And ... video began surfacing on the Internet apparently showing an earlier incident involving Galliano, who appears to be drunk, taunting two off-screen women, saying he "loved Hitler" and that their ancestors should be "gassed ... and dead."
Now, I understand why the word "alleged" is used in the sentence that raises the question of whether Galliano has violated French laws, in effect, on hate speech. In France it is much easier to go on trial for offensive words than in the United States of America (thus the Westboro Baptist Church crew).
However, here is what has me confused.
Please recall that the famous designer's remarks are on tape. There are few, if any, questions about what he said or did not say.
Thus, here is the question that we face: Is there any question whether it is anti-Semitism to tell Jews that their loved ones should have been "gassed ... and dead" during the Holocaust? What if Mel Gibson had made this remark, on tape? (The remark about loving Hitler is a bit harder to nail down.)
Thus, what irked me was the headline on the story:
Galliano's alleged anti-Semitic remarks unleash a storm
Once again, I know that it is "alleged" that he broke the French law. Got it.
But is it "alleged" that he made anti-Semitic remarks, in light of the fact that the words are on tape? I am questioning the headline.
In effect, I am asking if it can be stated as fact that the words that journalists know that he spoke can be accurately described as anti-Semitic. Or, has relativism made this term impossible to define and defend? Is it now impossible to make a factual statement that a person has uttered words that are anti-Semitic?