What the F**k!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

picture by Tony the Misfit @ Creative Commons

Story may be offensive to some readers.

"Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits." These are George Carlin's infamous Seven Dirty Words.

These words are regulated by the FCC from the airways and television during specific times of the day, but how are they used in print media?

The AP Stylebook has an entire section describing how reporters should use obscenities, profanities, and vulgarities. The stylebook says, "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."

To determine whether or not the obscenity in question is necessary for the reader to understand the full content of a story, editors and reporters must look at several factors.

First, they need to determine the newsworthiness of a story. If the individual possessing the potty-mouth is a high-standing public official, readers may want to know exactly what has been stated. For example, when former Vice-President Dick Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy Tuesday on the Senate Floor to, "Fuck yourself." Yet, if the person being quoted is your average Joe, readers probably couldn't give a s--t about the colorful vernacular this person exhibits.

Secondly, editors and reporters need to consider the community standards their paper must adhere to. A big city paper, such as the Los Angeles Times might be a little more lenient about using a four-letter word than a small town paper such as the Marion Times. If the readers will be more accepting to offensive language, as big city residents are, then the newspaper will be more likely to print an offensive word.

Finally, papers need to consider whether the comment in question is simply profane, or if it crosses into the realm of obscene language. To do this papers can use The Miller Test set up by Supreme Court in the 1978 Miller v. California case. This test rules something as obscene if:

1. The material appeals to prurient interest
2. It is specifically defined by State Law
3. It lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value

Even by considering these three guidelines, reporters and editors should use profane words with care, and only print them if they unquestionably contribute to the understanding of the full story. The overuse, or even a one-time use, of an offensive word can ultimately damage the reputation and integrity of any newspaper.


tyler.crandell October 4, 2011 at 9:05 PM  

This is an interesting post. I bet it was fun typing curse words in an article that you knew was going to be graded by your professor. Curse words do offer more emotion when compared to just reading the symbols that are used to bleep out the word, which give them a right to be used in some cases. Because the word used by the person quoted, whether profane or not, gives a more accurate feeling to what he or she was feeling at that time. But like you said, there are some times that they should not be printed.

Kate October 4, 2011 at 9:05 PM  

It's interesting to see how willing people are to throw around profanity in their everyday lives, and yet still expect the press to rise above it all. Swear words are so emotionally charged, though, that in print it's hard for people to ignore.

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