I wrote a few days ago about the New York Times' and other American papers' obfuscation about what Jesse Jackson said about Barack Obama. (“I want to cut his nuts off.") In a Washington Post chat today, the Post's media critic had this to say, which echoes my earlier comments:
Falls Church, Va.: Any thoughts on The Post's decision to show a squeamishness about Jesse Jackson's crude remarks that it did not about Dick Cheney's?
Howard Kurtz: An absolute mistake, especially from the newspaper that ran Dick Cheney's F-word blast against Pat Leahy. Why dance around it? Why devote a whole story to the political fallout without telling your readers what the offending line is? (Emphasis added.) After all, most people saw it a few dozen times on TV. It's not even obscene -- I use "nuts" all the time, though not in that context -- though it was definitely crude. Sometimes I think we go so far in "protecting" readers that we just look out of it.
The New York Times was even more vague than The Post, which drew criticism yesterday from the paper's ombudsman. The Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times published the exact quote. And then there was Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who referred to Obama's "twin objects of male anatomy." I asked him about that on "Reliable Sources," and he confessed: "I'm just an old prude."
So I was wrong that no American papers printed it. (The Post printed "that he wanted to castrate the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.') My apologies for that.
Here's what the Times' ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, had this to say:
Paul Winfield, news editor at The Times, said he and Chuck Strum, an associate managing editor, made the call to, effectively, bleep Jackson’s comments. Winfield said the remark about talking down to black people was what seemed newsworthy to him, while the vulgarity did not seem important enough to make an exception to stringent Times standards. Neither Bill Keller, the executive editor, nor Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, was consulted, and Abramson said they might have found an alternative way to deal with Jackson’s quote.
I would have just used it.
This seems odd. If Jackson had simply said Obama was talking down to black people, it still would have been news, but not the big deal that it was. It was the "cut his nuts off" that made it a big story.
Hoyt also shares a reader's comment:
Steve Sanger, a reader from Bellingham, Wash., said he sometimes wonders if The Times is edited by “prudish kindergarten teachers.” He said: “It is not good when a NY Times reader is forced to wonder what actually the fuss is about and then must start looking at other newspapers to find out.”
Hoyt's column is a very good discussion of the reasons that newspapers generally do not print crude and obscene words. And though I was a bit flip about it in my previous post, it's a policy I generally agree with. I do not think every news article should be filled with cursing and vulgarity. But if it's important enough to write an article about a public figure saying those words, you owe it to the readers to tell them what those words are.