We haven’t played “You Are Editor” in an awfully long time but we got a fine reason to today with some news out of Washington.
Even people who spend much of their day on the Internet and are fully aware that many websites can’t write a single headline without dropping an “F bomb” into the middle of it, probably realize the boundary that was expanded today when news organizations were confronted with an anonymous report that the president went all Richard Nixon on the English language when allegedly describing the living conditions of people who want to emigrate to the United States.
Here, for example, is a headline you don’t see every day.
Well, that, as we like to say in Minnesota, is interesting.
Unquestionably, the real story, if the quote is accurate, is not the words being used in the question the president allegedly asked; it’s that he asked the question. The White House did not deny Trump made the remarks.
All over America this afternoon, news editors had an uncomfortable conversation. Should they print the word? Some did, some didn’t, all entered new territory.
“We’re not reporting the word. I think that’s probably a mistake bc I don’t think it’s right to censor the president or to sugarcoat the racist sentiment revealed,” says @GStephanopoulos. I agree. #ABCNews @ABC pic.twitter.com/HaThVL9RiV
— Molly Hunter (@mollymhunter) January 12, 2018
For sure we in the business actively engage in self-delusion when using words to substitute for obscenities. Sports reports, for example, regularly use “stuff” when quoting what an athlete said even though everyone knows he/she didn’t say “stuff.” And yet, I’m not going to type what word that you, me, and the ’27 Yankees all know he/she said.
Good question with no easy answers. In my regular segment with Mary Lucia on The Current this afternoon, I left the story completely out of the “newscast,” and she called me on it. Stay for the end of segment; that’s where the stuff that might make an old-timer blush is.
Is it a silly delusion? Maybe. But broadcasters don’t enjoy the protections of the First Amendment that newspapers do, there might be little kids in a car listening to the radio, and, besides, do we really want to be part of the coarseness of the national dialog?
Heck, there was a time in our newsroom’s history that it wasn’t unusual to hear obscenities as part of the daily chore of cranking out news. Now, you don’t. Every society and institution sets its acceptable standards and it feels wrong to let someone in the White House drag us across a line we may not want to cross because once we do, there’s no going back.
And so we relay the realities of occasional human conversation in spaces such as this by merely banging on the top row of the keyboard and
winking at you instead. And that feels *%#@* wrong, too.
You are editor: What do you do?
Related: To use s***hole or not? The president takes the media into the dumpster (Poynter)