You Are Editor: The ‘stuff’ that makes us blush

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.
But…

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.

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.

Why not?

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)

  • Jerry

    I’d use a euphemism. I wouldn’t want the story to be derailed. It’s not the language he used that is important, it’s the sentiment.

    • Paragraph 5.

      • Jerry

        I know you addressed it. I’m just giving my reasoning. We saw how some people thought the issue in that tape released before the election was his language, not that he admitted to sexually assaulting women. I would not want that to happen again.

    • Rob

      So, you’d go with feces aperture, rather than shithole?

  • Bob Sinclair

    BTW, I appreciate the humor you bring with your little picture up in the corner.

    • Mike Worcester

      I was trying to see if it was a single seat to a double.

  • Mike Worcester

    So I’m on my commute home tonight and the MPR reports kept saying the President used a derogatory term that “we cannot repeat on air” and of course I’m just racking my brain as to what was soooo bad that MPR would not say it live. I was tempted to pull over, pull out Mr. Smart Phone, and look to see what he said. Upon arriving home I saw what the offending term was and my first thought was “That’s what you would not say?”

    Should we be so afraid of that word we shy away from using it in order to point out that perhaps, just perhaps, the President should not be using it the way he did? I’ve lived in a couple shithole apartment buildings and have said so. Then again, I’m not the leader of the free world; nor am I referring to other sovereign nations.

    Coarse? Yes. Say it on air? I think so. But that’s just me.

    • All it takes is one person to complain to the FCC. Who needs the hassle and expense of that?

      • Mike Worcester

        No one I’m sure, especially considering the uneven nature of how the FCC enforces “decency” standards.

        In re your comment above, it’s been great to hear Ray Suarez again. Many moons ago he appeared on the Barbara Carlson show on AM 1500 and would not play her games. It was fun to hear.

      • Rob

        I would think a very valid and compelling defense to any charges of obscenity by the FCC in a situation like this is that you are just accurately reporting what a newsmaker said. Way different than you discussing something on-air and throwing in an obscenity or two of your own volition – which is my understanding of what the obscenity regs are intended to guard against. Skool me if I’m wrong.

      • MikeB

        Would anyone be surprised that Trump and his minions would send the FCC after broadcasters for obscenity, by directly quoting Trump? Logic and standards are non-existent, using power is their only guiding principle.

  • gus

    Of course the word should be said on air as part of the story. It doesn’t have to be repeated over and over but it should be stated. We are so puritanical and yet so vulgar a society-just, look at what we elected to be our president..

  • Rob

    “Stuff?” Gawd almighty.

    First, it’s no surprise that this is how T.Rump (Pussy-grabber-in-Chief) rolls. But I am definitely in the “warts and all” school when it comes to how reporters and editors cover what newsmakers have said. It’s imperative that reporting be accurate, and that includes not shying away from reporting VERBATIM whatever colorful language a newsmaker chooses to use.

    One of the reasons I love The Guardian is that they don’t have this namby-pamby approach to covering colorful language used by newsmakers. In fact, they showed a responding tweet by Vicente Fox, the former President of Mexico, in which Fox said T.Rump’ s mouth “…is the biggest shithole in the world.”

    Quite frankly, I get incensed beyond measure when reporters and editors treat me like a snowflake who’s never heard a swear word. And the notion that news stories shouldn’t repeat swear words cuz kids might be listening is the LAMEST excuse going. Cut it the f^«k out – PLEASE!!

    • Man the MPR listener line some time.

      • Rob

        You mean, to hear people get upset about bad words and graphic descriptions being used on the radio? If so, I am unmoved.

        • Veronica

          Then answer the phones! 🙂 it’ll be fun!

  • Curmudge

    LOL! Trump’s question is legitimate and his language is accurate. I suppose he could have said primitive instead, but he used harsh language to make his point. I see no problem other than the Oligarch Media immediately attempting to use it to attack him. That’s their problem.

    • Blasko

      Hmm. Trump credits himself as a Christian leader. Is this how Jesus Christ would respond?

      • Paul Bugbee

        We look to our leaders to set an example, to encourage people to rise to their level of intellect, compassion and understanding. Instead, Trump’s insecurities as a man beg us to come down to his level of ignorance, distrust and arrogance.

      • Curmudge

        Yes. When difficult and dangerous times loomed ahead Jesus told his followers to sell their coats and buy swords. A good leader keeps his people safe.

        • Kassie

          Yes. A good leader does keep their people safe. One way is by not starting twitter fights with North Korea, calling an entire continent a shithole, and generally insulting and pissing off the entire world. Diplomacy and respect is what keeps us most safe.

    • KariBemidji

      Let’s look at the meaning behind his statement. He wants more white immigrants and less brown immigrants. Plain and simple. Jesus Christ himself wouldn’t make the cut for DJT.

      • The headline on the Strib’s jump page today was more shocking than the use of the word on the front page:

        “Trump uses vulgarity to scorn black immigrants”

        • Curmudge

          Good. SOMEBODY has to take a realistic look at immigration. If dangerous people are coming in and they happen to be BLACK…..they still have to be stopped. Reality may hurt, but you can’t deny it. We need only safe people who will lift America up–not destroy our way of life.

          • He didn’t say “why do we have to let people in who are dangerous?” (we don’t that’s why the immigration requirements are pretty strict). He asked why we have to let ANYONE in from certain countries.

            This is a racist statement and just to make sure you understood that, he opined that Norwegians would be welcome.

            This is merely one more step in the white nationalist Aryan Nation taking further control of the U.S.

          • KariBemidji

            DJT and others talk about immigration like it’s an easy thing to do. Years of paperwork, interviews, background checks and more.

            And he doesn’t want them to come here because ‘they happen to be BLACK’. It is because they are from majority brown countries not white like Norway.

            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=umqvYhb3wf4

      • Curmudge

        So he wants more whites and fewer blacks. Nothing wrong with that. The leader of our country has determined that the blacks that are coming in right now are dangerous and destructive. He’s putting a stop to it. How is that not good leadership?

        • // The leader of our country has determined that the blacks that are coming in right now are dangerous and destructive.

          He’s determined that because of their color. He’s not using data.

          Nigeria’s a shithole? Nigerians are better educated than the average American and certainly more educated and successful than people who ask what’s wrong with an immigration policy based on skin color.

          • Jerry

            Literally the only thing Trump (and this commentor) probably know about Nigeria is that it’s residents have darker skin than they do.

        • crystals

          THERE IS DEFINITELY SOMETHING WRONG WITH THAT.

        • Kassie

          OMG. Agree with Crystals. There is so much wrong with that. “Blacks” are dangerous and destructive? A whole race of people? That’s racism. That the definition of racism.

        • KariBemidji

          Whoa.

    • Jack Ungerleider
    • crystals

      Primitive? Shithole? Those are accurate ways to describe nations and the human beings who live there?

      Jesus weeps.

  • Gmc54

    So, how can you presume to call yourselves journalists, when you’re terrified to report a quote from the president of the United States?

  • AL287

    I am sure the current POTUS uses a lot more obscenities when his Republican “yes” men say, “No.”

    Unfortunately the meeting was not limited to his crony Republicans. It was a Democratic aide that revealed the use of profanity to refer to Haitians and Africans.

    “Better to remain a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

    I didn’t vote for Mr. Racist Profanity, the man with two faces as did the majority of the country, Electoral College be damned.

    Trump has proven over and over that he can’t be trusted.

    Too many Americans just choose to look the other way.

    Not this American. No way. No how.

    Edit–

    Left out the topic. Sorry.

    Profanity has no place in rational discourse on the air or in print.

    Of course there has been a lot of discussion as to whether Trump is capable of rational thought.

  • Erick

    I didn’t know exactly what the man from the White House said until late at night when the broadcaster from the BBC quoted the word (over MPR airwaves) “shithole.” The emotional power of hearing what was actually said rather than some vague euphemism was palpable. I hope the editors get a backbone. I doubt that the FCC would fine for directly quoting the highest office holder, and if they did it would be worth it.

    P.S. Mark me down as another Norski supporting African and Haitian immigration!

  • John

    I don’t know the FCC forbidden words list (George Carlin’s version I do know). I also don’t know what sorts of exemptions may be made when directly quoting someone, so I’m going to ignore the rules.

    The ideal, as far as my moral code thinks, is this:

    When quoting someone, whether printed or verbally, use the exact quote. If the person said something patently offensive, then beeping out words softens it, and I find that unacceptable.

    I can’t think of anywhere else that the use of profanity is appropriate in formal journalism.

    • The rule is much broader and its vagueness is the catchall nature of “indecent.” It stipulates that context is important, but that’s for the FCC to decide. And fighting someone who complains is $$$.

      • John

        Given the rampant use of the term “fake news,” by and the apparent enthusiasm with which the current administration moves to squash anything that disagrees with them, I would be concerned as a news agency about doing anything that has even a whiff of an excuse for the FCC to revoke a license.

        I suppose that’s part of the idea.

        I also really don’t want to have to take that into consideration, but here we are.

  • MikeB

    It’s hard to get the focus on the racism when the quote overcomes the story, a good reason not to use the direct quote.

    • Rob

      I think using the exact quote in this instance makes the racism of T.Rump’s comments even more stark.

  • Jeff

    I’d say they’re on the slippery slope to using the f-word on the air.

    That being said, if they said it on NPR, I can start using it at work. As in “Why do we keep accepting all these shithole projects? Can’t we get some projects from Norway?”

    • Kassie

      You don’t use that word at work? I certainly do in some situations.

      • Jeff

        Only in extreme circumstances. Otherwise cursing loses its effectiveness.

      • Interesting. Are you a proctologist?

    • MikeB

      I think we’ll hear the N-word in the political discourse by November 2018, similar to how shithole came out

      • Jerry

        Norway?

      • AmiSchwab

        before november

  • Postal Customer

    Related question: why the hell would someone from Norway want to come here?

    • AmiSchwab

      for the warm winters

  • KTFoley

    Oh for the days when “basket of deplorables” was the most disrespectful thing a person might say.