Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Newspapers are so prissy

 A recent Washington Post article said that former Attorney General William Barr "likened Trump’s claims [of voter fraud] to excrement from a male bovine animal." You know, bullshit. A writer ought to be embarrassed over resorting to such coy circumlocutions, but this is what U.S. mainstream newspapers have led us to expect. 

For years at The Sun, house policy on bad words was to provide the initial letter followed by two em-dashes. Writers had previously used the initial letter with a hyphen for all the subsequent letters, but John S. Carroll said he didn't want reading the news to be like working the Jumble. 

Submissive to the policy, I wrote a post on this blog reviewing Jesse Sheidlower's The F Word without once using the word fuck and a similarly seemly review for The Sun of Melissa Mohr's Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

Such policies survive, of course, because most of the readers of daily newspapers are older people, who we think are used to more decorous language.* When The Sun allowed some profanity or vulgarity to escape into print, letters would come in chastising the editors for putting such words where impressionable young people would see them. (I challenge you: Show me a young person who reads a newspaper.)

I am of that decorous era. When I was a child, the only profanity my grandfather ever uttered was a deep, throaty Hell!, and then only on special occasions. I came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as did many of my newspaper colleagues, and despite our youthful freedom of speech we remained captive to the straitlaced standards we inherited, even though our readers are hearing those very words daily. 

Oh, our weekly free newsstand effort to entrap younger readers once caused a minor stir with DOUCHEBAG as a headline on the cover, but the boldness faded. 

I have slipped The Sun's yoke in retirement, and while I do not plan to write here quite as I used to speak in the newsroom, I embrace the freedom, when something is shitty, to say that it is shitty.

*My former Sun colleague Steve Auerweck once presciently suggested changing the OBITUARIES logo to SUBSCRIBER COUNTDOWN.