the other day (March 30, 2014) Jesse Sheidlower writing an op-ed in the New
York Times urged that old gray lady to shed her Victorian corset, bob her
hair, roll her stockings, and join the Jazz Age (or at least the early
twenty-first century equivalent). “The Case for Profanity in Print“ claimed the headline.
The impetus for the op-ed was the reporting (or
should we say “non-reporting”?)—not only by the Times, but also by the
Washington Post, Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal,
CNN, the Associated Press, and the Los Angeles Times—of the actual
remarks (characterized by Sheidlower as “some impolitic comments”) by Assistant
Secretary of State Victoria Nuland during a telephone call with the ambassador
to Ukraine. Ms. Nuland used a word that those bastions of prudishness could
only handle at prissy tongs-length by substituting asterisks or dashes for
letters or euphemizing the offending language, such as calling it “a blunt
expletive” (LA Times). The New York Times really topped them all
by merely saying the Secretary “profanely dismissed European efforts in Ukraine
as weak and inadequate.”
DRNORMALVISION blog dealt with the issue of the faint-hearted media way back in
September 2012 (http://drnormalvision.blogspot.com/2012/09/smelling-salts.html).
Little fish that we are, we did not expect the supposed paper of record to
notice our insightful prose and to mend its lace-curtain ways. However, having
a writer on its own pages urge the paper “to print exactly what we mean” gave
us hope that change was here. Who were we kidding?
article itself is a textbook example of the Times’ approach to the
profane. “Even in this essay, I am unable to be clear about many of my
examples” of words “necessary to the understanding of a story,” Sheidlower
claims. So the article resorts to the “euphemisms or coy acrobatics that make
stories read as if they were time capsules written decades ago, forcing us all
into wink-wink-nudge-nudge territory”: “F-word,” “N-word,” “barnyard epithet.”
the media do not tell us the truth, says Sheidlower, we learn “that something
important happened, but that it can’t actually be reported.”
would seem to contradict the posturing of any news organ pretending to be a
paper of record.