The New York Times ran a story yesterday about Jesse Jackson’s recent criticism or Barack Obama. The lead:
The Rev. Jesse Jackson apologized on Wednesday for critical and crude comments he made about Senator Barack Obama, remarks in which he accused Mr. Obama of “talking down to black people.”
The Times, like other American newspapers, blushes at actually saying what the crude comment was, unlike papers in the UK (Financial Times) and Australia (Sydney Morning Herald) and a French news service (Agence France-Presse):
“I want to cut his nuts off,” Jackson said.
Usually I agree with my newspaper, and most newspapers’ policies of not printing obscenities, unless it’s fundamental to the story, like when Vice President Dick Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy to “Fuck yourself.” (The Washington Post printed that, but a lot of others didn’t.)
When it comes to a simple vulgarity, I think it’s even sillier to refuse to print it when its germane. It’s crude, but it’s not offensive, and that sentence is what all the furor is about. Sure, there are people who don’t like seeing the word nuts, but I think the omission leaves most people scratching their heads as to what Jackson said. Then they go Google it and find it. Newspapers are worried about losing readers. Well, one good way to make sure they do is to force them to put down the paper (or leave NYTimes.com) to go find out what they are talking about.
Part of the reason words are taboo is because people are afraid to say them. They lose their power to force self-censorship if people aren’t shocked — Shocked! — to see them. They’re just words, people.
UPDATE: The Washington Post’s media critic and New York Times’ public editor write about this.