Friday, April 19, 2019


The Mueller Report, which offered both new evidence that President Trump engaged in improper action, but stopped short of declaring him a criminal, drew interesting coverage on Thursday and today.

One of the most significant parts of the lengthy report -- posted verbatim on several news sites -- was the quote attributed to Trump after he was told that the investigation had been launched in May 2017.

According to Mueller's report, Trump stated, “Oh, my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

The use of such profanity in any news story or a quote has often been done in a censored manner, such as "f---ed" or noting only that it was an "expletive deleted."

But in coverage of the report, several major newspapers chose to print the entire word. The New York Times had it in two stories that began on the front page, while The Washington Post used it in 11 different stories related to the report since its release Thursday, including its lead Page One story. But the word does not appear in the Post's print story until the jump page. 

Danielle Rhodes, The New York Times Company vice-president of communications, said via email that this was not the first time that word was used on Page One, adding, "The Times has previously published that word in a quote, including on the front page. Though we rarely publish obscene or vulgar words, our stylebook guidance allows their use when editors believe readers 'need to know the exact words' to understand a newsworthy event."

Similar uses of the uncensored word were found in the Los Angeles Times. But a search online found few other major newspapers using the complete word, although several magazines and online outlets used it.

Several newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, used an Associated Press story on the report that censored the word as "f---ed".

The Associated Press Stylebook, considered the bible for news writing decisions, gives editors leeway in using such profanity, especially in a quote. It states, in part:

AP Style holds that you should not use obscenities in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them. Try to find a way to give the reader a sense of what was said without using the specific word or phrase. If a profanity, obscenity, or vulgarity must be used, flag the story at the top with a warning. 

Confine the offending language, in quotation marks, to a separate paragraph that can be deleted easily by editors who do not want to use it.

If a full quote that contains an obscenity, profanity, of vulgarity cannot be dropped but there is no compelling reason for the offensive language, replace the letter of the offensive word with hyphens, using only an initial letter. In some stories or scripts, it may be better to replace the offensive word with a generic descriptive in parenthesis, e.g. (vulgarity) or (obscenity).

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