March 8, 2016

Donald Trump's constant use of profanity or profane-like words has forced the AP into making some editorial decisions. The AP Stylebook is the Bible for journalism and is followed by most of the media. During this wacky campaign season, certain word have made big news and many media outlets have been forced to make hard decisions on how they approach them.

I grew up in Queens, NY, so curse words have always been part of my vocabulary, but when I started this site, I never felt comfortable using them while writing my opinions or when covering the news. So, I pretty much instituted a policy that requires all our writers and guests to substitute a letter or two when using profanity. Sure, sometimes a word will get through, but that's life. I never used the AP to make that decision for me at the time, but I know others curse a lot and that's fine too. Hey, if you don't like it, you can f*ck off. See what I did there?

Since Trump loves to call people "pussies," and whatnot, his vulgarity has filtered down to other politicians and pundits, who have had no problem dropping them on TV and in interviews so the AP has now made a ruling on the matter:


Associated Press Standards Editor Tom Kent wrote Monday about a recent rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump and two words that came up during and after that might have given some journalists a pause.

When someone at a Donald Trump rally last month shouted that Ted Cruz was “a pussy,” Trump repeated the word into the mic. A few days ago, Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham told a roomful of journalists, “My party has gone batshit crazy.”

What’s a news agency to do?

Kent pointed out two things the AP has to keep in mind:

  • The AP has its own standards, which include using vulgar and obscene quotes only when totally necessary to the story.
  • AP subscribers also have their own standards. "They vary somewhat, but most tell us to avoid gratuitous vulgarity, carrying only what’s really important."

Our point here isn’t that “pussy” or “batshit” was absolutely right or wrong to use. Opinions will vary, including among AP staffers. The most important thing is for us to discuss how important such language is to a story, before the story goes out. We also need to be in constant touch with our subscribers so we’re aware how their standards are evolving.

This isn't a new style ruling, but rather a look at the process the AP goes through when dealing with obscenity and vulgarity.

Other news organizations have explained how they grapple with these issues in the past. Last year, The New York Times' Margaret Sullivan asked if the Times' vulgarity policy still worked. In 2014, an op-ed piece in the Times made the case for using profanity. The Wall Street Journal also looked at how it permitted profanity that year, noting that standards were changing.

Use of impolite words should still be rare, but there are certain words that we’ll publish now that we wouldn’t have used a decade ago. There still has to be a compelling reason to use the quotation, including demonstrating insight into someone’s character by his or her word choices, but there are times when ass, jackass or yes, suck, may be allowed to appear, in cases where they might have been “Barney-dashed” before.

The reasoning is that we want to be classy without being Victorian, in line with the evolving language.

Ahhhh, yes, Victorian.

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