No. Nothing’s wrong. That’s just the word of the week. It’s all over the place. It’s in the news. It’s on television. The New York Times has, for the second time ever, printed the word, sans censorship, in its hallowed pages. CNN made no bones about allowing it during a news broadcast.
The story, for the privileged few that haven’t been inundated with it over the past few days, is President Bush’s mistimed “shit,” an errant swear word that turned up on tape and is now being broadcast all over the world. What’s surprising is that it’s being broadcast in its entirety. No censorship. It’s right there on CNN. On the BBC. The New York Times. Without apology.
Has it become accepted? Are we suddenly shifting the linguistic landscape into something more liberal, more allowing of the “seven words you can’t say on television?” For me it seems false – at least, as far as certain outlets are concerned.
The New York Times, as mentioned, has done this before. A post from Language Log discussed the system of how a curse word is printed:
As I mentioned in an update to my original post, the late New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal exempted presidential swearing from the newspaper’s ban on shit during the Watergate era. Rosenthal’s obituary in the New York Observer (quoted by a Gawker commenter) tells the story:
When a Watergate tape revealed that Richard Nixon had said, “I don’t give a shit what happens, I want you all to stonewall it,” The Times printed shit for the first time, though only in the text of the tape, and not in the accompanying news story. When a Newsweek reporter called Rosenthal to ask if this was a seismic change in the paper’s standards, he replied, “No. We’ll only take shit from the President.”
So The New York Times actually has a system in place, a reason for allowing this in. But what about the BBC? What about CNN? Are they taking journalistic freedom to another level by referring to the word in completeness, spelling it out rather than burying it under a heap of dashes and beeps.
Or is this a handful of media outlets trying to do what they can to seem more edgy, more journalistic, taking The New York Times’ cue and reporting exactly what happened, damn it, and not worrying about what they’re doing as much as what image will come from doing it?
There’s a hint of artificial journalism, as if everyone looked over, saw The New York Times, and decided that they couldn’t be left behind, that they were less of a journalist if they didn’t throw the word in. It looks like it was done more as a reaction, a “look at what the The Times did, I guess we’d better do it as well” response, than anything else.
And really, is it that big of a deal? I’m no Bush fan, but the media circus revolving around this single word is exactly why right-wing nuts claim that the media is biased, tilted toward the left. This is not a big deal. South Park did it. The New York Times has done it in the past. It’s a word.
If you wouldn’t print it in any other context, why bother with this worn down story?
I repeat, this is not a big deal.
Hopefully, it’s gotten out of our system. Hopefully.