Who's being protected by bowdlerizing Trump's 'shithole' comment?

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No, the republic did not crumble when CNN actually quoted the President of the United States without dashes, asterisks or euphemisms.
  • No, the republic did not crumble when CNN actually quoted the President of the United States without dashes, asterisks or euphemisms.

The news that President Donald Trump had called El Salvador, Haiti and the continent of Africa "shitholes" in a meeting with legislators created a lot of migraines for the D.C. GOP, but it also seemed to induce headaches inside newsrooms. Do you print what the president said in a headline? How about in the body of a story?

The Associated Press stylebook (which Gambit and many other newspapers use as a baseline standard) is clear on the subject:
obscenities, profanities, vulgarities: Do not use them in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.
Trump's use of the word fulfills both criteria — so Gambit used it in an online headline, as did The New Orleans Advocate (though it later was changed to "s—-hole," the same choice made by NOLA.com). The Washington Post, which originally reported the story, had no problem with the word (though it didn't use it in today's print headline):
“When the president says it, we’ll use it verbatim,” says Post Executive Editor Marty Baron. “That’s our policy. We discussed it, quickly, but there was no debate.”

CNN and MSNBC both used the nonbowdlerized term in reporting, discussion and on chyrons (and some seemed to enjoy the license). Local news was more headline-circumspect, with WWL-TV and WGNO-TV opting for "s—-hole," WDSU-TV going for "[expletive]" and WVUE-TV settling on "Trump comment."
Alt-weekly papers always have had more freewheeling standards when it comes to language and topics than have daily papers or local news stations. But do we really need to spray asterisk sanitizer on a word that 1) everyone knows; 2) is heard on regular cable TV; and 3) was a direct quote from the President of the United States?

National Public Radio has been in a tight-pantsed dither over it, with its standards evolving by the hour:
First NPR didn't use "the word" and then it did. I'm referring, of course, to the vulgar slur ("shithole countries") President Trump was reported to have used to disparage African nations during a meeting Thursday on immigration with lawmakers at the White House. At the meeting, NPR reported, he also "questioned why the United States would admit immigrants from them and other nations, like Haiti" and El Salvador, instead of countries like Norway.

In a Thursday evening All Things Considered report, NPR referred to Trump's remarks only as a "vulgar slur," and reporter Kelsey Snell said listeners who wanted the full phrase could look at the NPR website, where it was rendered as "s***hole." In the first 5 a.m. go-round of Morning Edition today that guidance stood, but by 8 a.m., NPR started using the word, preceded by a brief heads-up about the language, and eventually began spelling it out online, as well.
Who would be offended by the direct quote? Kids? We all know that's ridiculous. If I wanted to learn a new and creative swear, I'd ask an eight-year-old.

What adult is going to fall into a fainting couch at the sight of the word "shit"? Anyone who can read Sean Payton's lips on the sidelines of a Saints game can handle a quote by the president.

So who's being protected by all this false timorousness — besides the person who said it?


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