Anthony Scaramucci’s shockingly brief stint in the White House was marked by a tirade in which he called one rival a “f—— paranoid schizophrenic” and said another rival was attempting a difficult form of self-gratification. The New York Times printed the whole quotes in both cases; the Chicago Tribune didn’t. The Associated Press described the rival’s alleged self-gratification as an attempt to “burnish his reputation.”
It’s always been difficult for newspapers to report the facts while protecting their most sensitive readers, and media in general are getting more lenient about publishing coarse language. Here’s a timeline:
1970: Bull in a courtroom
When a defendant at the Chicago Seven trial uses the word “b—s—” in court, The New York Times calls it a “barnyard epithet.”
1976: Joke by mail only
Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz tells an offensive joke about African-Americans and is fired. Only two newspapers print the joke verbatim: the Capital Times in Madison, Wis., and the Toledo Blade in Ohio, according to a Columbia Journalism Review report cited by author Daniel Levitas. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in Lubbock, Texas, tells readers they can show up at the newspaper offices and read the joke; more than 200 reportedly show up. The San Diego Evening Tribune offered to mail it, and more than 3,000 people request it. (We won’t share the unfunny joke. Unlike readers in 1976, you can Google it if you choose.)
1991: Gorby goes blue
The Los Angeles Times logs its first use of the F-word spelled out, in an article quoting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, according to the book “The F-Word,” edited by Jesse Sheidlower. (The Washington Post follows a year later, and the F-barrier breaks open in 1998 when the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and others print the Starr Report during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.)
1995: Forget it
The New York Times writes about how much money a worker needs to be able to quit a job, calling it “Forget You Money.” The Times admits that it’s a “family-newspaper approximation” for the actual term.
2000: Major-league moment
When a microphone picks up presidential candidate George W. Bush calling a New York Times reporter “a major-league a——,” it’s a local story for the Chicago Tribune, since it occurs in west suburban Naperville. But the Tribune doesn’t print the offending word, calling it “an expletive” and “a vulgar term.” The Chicago Sun-Times does print it. The major-leaguer’s paper, the Times, calls it an “expletive deleted.” But the Washington Times takes the strangest approach, citing “a vulgar euphemism for a rectal aperture.”
2004: Veep goes deep
Vice President Dick Cheney clashes with Sen. Pat Leahy on the Senate floor and tells him, “F— yourself.” The Washington Post prints the word; the New York Times refers to “an obscene phrase to describe what he thought Mr. Leahy should do.” The Chicago Tribune initially calls it “an obscenity,” then a few days later cites “a familiar four-lettered expletive, starting with ‘f.'”
2010: Big deal
What is it with vice presidents? Joe Biden, excited that Obamacare is being signed into law, swears near a microphone. “Mr. President, this is a big … deal” is how The New York Times renders it, later making clear that the omitted word starts with F. The Chicago Tribune calls it a “big (expletive) deal” and “big (bleeping) deal.”
2016: Getting grabby
An “Access Hollywood” recording from 2005 catches Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump boasting about groping women without their consent. “Grab ’em by the p—y” is how the Chicago Tribune renders it, while The New York Times spells out the whole word. The Tribune also spells out the word in certain cases, such as when referring to the “pussy hats” that anti-Trump protesters wear. Mainstream media are having the damnedest time as cultural standards keep shifting.
Mark Jacob is the Tribune’s associate managing editor for metropolitan news.