The “The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage,” pompously sub-titled, “The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative Newspaper,” has always inveighed against the paper publishing vulgar or obscene words. In particular, it has never allowed the printing of the word “fuck” or any version of it anywhere in the paper. On one occasion, the Times stage reviewer had to review a play with “fuck” in the title without ever revealing what the title was.
Ethics Alarms has consistently held that 1) if a vulgar word is a substantive part of the news story, then a newspaper should print the word. Codes like “the f-word,” “F-bomb,” and “f—” convey the word fuck, so why not just print it? The practice is juvenile (remember the camp song “Shaving cream”, in which a line that was set up by a previousl line rhyming with “shit” and suggesting “shit” would substitute “having cream! Hilarious! Well, if you were 11…) and yes, the position here is the same regarding so- called taboo words like “nigger.” In 2015, there was a huge uproar after Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison muttered “Fuck that nigger” behind his handinto a live microphone after answering a post-Final Four game news conference question about Wisconsin player Frank Kaminsky. Yet despite the fact that the words he used were the issue, no newspapers, and certainly no TV news outlet, actually reported the words. I wrote,
It took me 15 minutes and visits to six web sites before I could find out exactly what it was that Harrison said. Most sources vaguely reported that he had uttered “an expletive and a slur,” or plunged readers into a game of “Hangman” with the statement being reported as “_ _ _ _ that _ _ _ _ _ _.” The Washington Post settled on “[Expletive] that [N-word].” Which expletive??? This is ridiculous, and as inexcusably bad journalism as refusing to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that caused the Paris massacre. The story is about what Harrison said, and it is impossible to inform readers about the incident without saying exactly what was said.
Nevertheless, the Times style and practice rules are the Times style and practice rules…norms, in other words. Imagine my surprise, then to find the words “fucked’ not only in the Times, but on its April 9th front page, twice.
The reason, of course, is this “fuck” was uttered, allegedly, by Presient Trump, and it is the Times’s mission to embarrass, impugn, and denigrate the President while doing everything in its power to inflame sufficient numbers of citizens against him that he can be removed from office. During the 2016 campaign, the Times announced that preventing his election uniquely justified suspending journalism standards of objectivity, and now it has declared by its actions that its norms mean nothing if they impede the paper’s “Get Trump” agenda.
This, you may note, comes from the same paper that repeatedly references the “resistance” talking point that Trump dangerously breaches “democratic norms.”
Yet the Times cannot legitimately claim Trump said “fucked”(the infamous line was “I’m fucked.”) The Mueller report says that a witness said that the President said “I’m fucked.” That’s hearsay. Maybe the President did say that—I don’t doubt it—but the fact is that the Times doesn’t know that he did, because it wasn’t present, hasn’t spoken with the witness, and hasn’t heard tapes of that witness talking to the investigators. How odd that the only instance in its history that the New York Times, the self-proclaimed gold standard for professional journalism, would decide to violate its standards as a family newspaper and print “fuck” was an instance when journalistic standards dictate that the utterance of the word is not established fact, but an allegation only. How can that be?
It can be because the objective is to bring down President Trump by any means necessary, and if what the Times previously held was unacceptable to report explicitly–for example, when then Vice-President Biden was caught telling Obama that passing the Affordable Care Act was a “big fucking deal”—had to be ignored to do maximum damage, then it just had to be ignored, that’s all.
Because I know that the Times is a paper of integrity, I will now expect that all of the other words previously banned from explicit reference in the pages of the Times will now be published in all their glory if they are material to a news story–fuck, cocksucker, cunt, faggot, nigger of course, and the rest.
Well, at least if they can be used to bring down President Trump, anyway.
(The Ethics Alarms post relevant to this issue—the Ethics Alarms “fuck” files— can be reviewed here)