Quoting a Foul-Mouthed President

Journalists typically avoid reporting vulgar language, but they were tested over how far to go in repeating President Trump’s comments about “shithole countires,” or words to that effect.

Michael M. Grynbaum surveyed media and found they differed, some explicit while others nuanced. In this case, the profane quote was not incidental to the story, it was the story.

The reporting appears to follow the direction of a cultural shift to coarse language.

Observers note that Trump’s remarks follow others that forced journalists to consider their standards, like “pussy.” They also note that Trump is not the only president to use offensive language. President George W. Bush used an expletive to describe a New York Times reporter.

A generation of so ago, words like “hell” or “damn” were not seen in daily newspapers, or heard on radio or television, much less the F-word. These appear fairly commonly now.

President Lyndon Johnson often used colorful language, sometimes off-color. In 1965 Johnson ordered U.S. military intervention in the Dominican Republic, and reportedly said, “Those people couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if they had instructions on the heel!” The disparaging remarks could have upset U.S.-Latin American relations if they had been widely reported.

President Gerald Ford fired his agriculture secretary, Earl Butz, in 1976 for highly offensive remarks quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine about why African-Americans don’t vote Republican.

In the ongoing discussion of what to report or not, retired journalism professor Robert Buckman offers this thought from from Arthur Brisbane, American journalist, editor and author: “A newspaper is a mirror reflecting the public, a mirror more or less defective, but still a mirror.”

 

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