Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.

Oklahoma was shaken this month by the largest alleged earthquake in its history.

The temblor, with an alleged magnitude of 5.6, is accused of damaging buildings in Sparks, Lincoln County, and other municipalities. It also allegedly spawned countless alleged aftershocks.

Official regard the Wilzetta Fault, also known as the Seminole Uplift, as “a site of interest,” though not officially a suspect in the alleged disturbance.

You say, “That’s just silly? Everybody knows that the shaking in the Sooner State was attributable to an actual earthquake in the Wilzetta Fault zone.”

But consider the case of Jared Lee Loughner. Last January, he stormed an outdoor event held by Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot six people dead and wounded a few more, including the congresswoman, who took a bullet to the brain.

Loughner, still holding the smoking pistol, was tackled by citizens and held until police arrived to take him into custody. In that instance, the perpetrator of the mayhem and death was transformed by the news media into “the alleged gunman.”

Today’s news people have been taught to believe the word “alleged” and its cognates – allege, allegedly, allegation – have become sacramental terms that absolve the user of responsibility for anything published or broadcast. Journalists will tell you piously that the words are meant to protect subjects, such as criminal defendants, from the assumption of guilt.

And this brings us to Herman Cain. In politics, allegations have the impact of facts. Herman Cain has suffered a very real psychological and political bruising from the barrage of sexual harassment accusations emanating from – at last count – five women.

The news media have labeled these accusations “allegations,” and the dictionary defines allegation as “an assertion with no proof.” But after the invocation of “allegation,” these same media trot out commentators who opine that an accumulation of assertions with no proof must be proof of something.

As we have noted in the past, “allegation” in its various forms has been so cheapened and distorted over the years by the media’s alleged attempts at “fairness,” that it has become code for “very likely the truth.”

In fairness to the media, we should note that most reporters and many commentators – in the newspapers and particularly in television – have only an alleged familiarity with the English language. They view the reflexive trotting out of “alleged” as a kind of act in remission of whatever journalistic sins they might commit.

It is piety without intellectual attachment.

So far, the Cain sexual harassment allegations have amounted to exchanges of “yes, he did” and “no, I didn’t.” It reminds me of a story run by a newspaper of my acquaintance. An elderly cat lover had accused the local cops of randomly shooting stray cats, and the newspaper’s editor told a young reporter to be sure to say the charge was alleged, and to balance it with the police department’s denials.

The police, unable to say on the record that their accuser was senile and delusional, could only say, “No, we didn’t.” There was no measure of the source’s veracity.

Was such vetting done on Cain’s accusers before their allegations were reported? Not that we can tell. The journalists might as well have said he was shooting cats.

Critical thinking? The firing of Penn State’s 84-year-old football coach, Joe Paterno, has triggered student riots, which are a measure of the intellect and morality of today’s scholars.

Paterno was axed by the university’s board of trustees in the wake of a scandal over charges of sexual abuse of young boys by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

The kids on campus apparently think they know more than the board about Paterno’s knowledge of the abuse and the potential damage it could do to the institution. The students likely are the beneficiaries of the education establishment’s transmission of “critical thinking” skills instead of ethical guidance.

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