For f--k's sake, people

(Obviously, this will contain some language.) Generally, newspapers have a policy against printing profanity, with the exception of a quote that is exceptionally newsworthy. (Usually a public figure cursing at someone else in public, such as Dick Cheney's famous "Go fuck yourself" to Sen. Patrick Leahy in the Senate.)

Although I think these rules tend to err of the stodgy side, in a publication intended for a mass audience, I understand the need to be as inoffensive as possible so as not to lose readers.

Usually, if a quote contains profanity but the reporter wants to use it, the profanity will be replaced with some sort of typographical fix. So when Cheney said "Go fuck yourself," some newspapers reported it with something like this:

Cheney replied with a profanity.

"Go ... yourself," he said.

Or like this:

Cheney replied with a profanity.

"Go --- yourself," he said.

I don't quite get this. If you think it is important enough to say that the person cursed at someone, then why don't you think it is important enough to report what they said? The reader is left to guess about the degree of the obscenity and is probably left playing fill in the blank. (It's fairly obvious in this quote, but what about something like "That's ... ridiculous." Lots of naughty words fit there.)

But sometimes, newspapers print something stupid like this:

Cheney replied with a profanity.

"Go f--k yourself," he said.

I saw an example of  this in a newspaper recently (different profanity and context, but it was a quote of one elected official speaking to another in public), and I literally said, "Come on!" loud enough to draw attention from those around me at the breakfast place I was eating at.

This is the worst way to handle profanity. You are trying to act like you care about your readers' sensitivities, but really, you're just insulting their intelligence. The argument I have heard for "f--k" or "s--t" or whatever is that it is to protect kids. But readers don't sit around discussing newspaper ethics or policies or reading our handbooks. They don't know why you just took out the middle letters, and they'll probably think the newspaper thinks they are too dumb to figure out what the word is.

And even if the policy is understood -- and even if a child young enough to protect from swearing is actually reading an article about politics -- all this will do is make the kid go to his parents and ask what it means.

Leaving aside whether or not kids need to be protected from cursing, I think that a kid reading something like that gives a parent the opportunity to talk about what is and isn't acceptable behavior, whether you are a 10-year-old or a vice president.

Quoting a powerful figure telling another powerful figure to go fuck himself is not gratuitous use of profanity. It's just news.

But if your policy is to not print profanity except in extreme cases, and you judge that something is not extreme, then leave it out entirely, or at worst, take the word out using ellipses or dashes or whatever. Don't just take out the middle letters. It's a gutless way to deal with the issue.