Yesterday, I wrote about media outlets that are too squeamish to make references to bodily functions, including even words like “pee” that have made their ways into everyday conversation. Newspapers with “family” sensibilities and radio and television stations fearing censure and fines from the FCC are finding it more and more difficult to operate within strictures that defy the realities of the world about which they are reporting.
Once we get beyond the popularity of slang references to urination and defecation, we get into the territory of what were once known as “cuss words,” many of which refer to genitalia or sexual functions. I should mention that these words referred to those subjects at one time, although today they have largely divested themselves of those meanings, being used primarily for emphasis or to indicate anger or surprise.
I vaguely recall reading that a major American newspaper vowed never to print one of those vulgar words in its pages until such time as the president of the United States used them publicly. It wasn’t long until that very situation occurred and the paper had to eat humble pie.
The fact is that quite a few U.S. presidents have demonstrated their fondness for profanity. Harry Truman, LBJ, Clinton, both Bushes and, yes, President Obama, are among them. Some would argue that use of this type of language constitutes decidedly unpresidential conduct and is inappropriate for anyone supposedly serving as a role model for today’s youth. Whether the leader of the free world is expected to fulfill that function in the 21st century remains a subject for debate.
I must admit that I was a bit taken aback by an article published over the holiday weekend by Phil Bump, a Washington Post political columnist whom I admire and respect. The purpose of the piece was to point out that presidential candidate Donald Trump has a potty mouth, as clearly demonstrated by some of his very colorful tweets. It’s true: The man loves his expletives. If nothing else, they certainly attract attention. The problem, as I learned in writing class many years ago, is that the expletive tends to be all the reader sees. The shock value of such words tends to completely supersede and blot out any point the writer may have been attempting to make.
I’m not surprised that Trump likes to cuss, but I was terribly disappointed with the subterfuge to which Bump had to resort in order to present Trump’s Bluest Hits of Twitter without violating the arcane and laughably out-of-date rules set forth by his newspaper. The plan involved asking readers to solve a type of cryptogram in order to figure out the particular vulgarities used by Trump without the paper having to actually print those words.
“For kicks,” writes Bump in explaining his scheme, “we’ve changed the four swear words we looked at into names. The word beginning with an F is “Frank.” The one beginning with an S is “Sam.” The three-letter word starting with A becomes “Alex,” and the longer, seven-letter variant thereof, “Alexander.”
Bump then coyly quotes some of Trump’s rants on Twitter, substituting the proposed words above for the profanity actually used. WTF?
“Before we continue,” writes Bump, “we will demurely note that The Washington Post tends not to use a lot of cussing on its pages.” No, really? I mean, gosh darn, you could have fooled me. He then goes on to state, seemingly by way of distancing himself from his own folly, that “We are not 10, but if any 10-year-olds read this, their innocent sensibilities will be spared (in case there is some 10-year-old who doesn’t know the f-word).”
I believe that this last sentence, particularly the parenthetical portion, is designed to point out Bump’s awareness of how utterly ridiculous are the rules by which news writers and columnists are bound. Surely it is no surprise to anyone that a demagogue, a self-styled man of the people such as Trump, would speak using the same type of language that (most of) the rest of us do.
That the news media ignore the facts of the modern world, instead opting to sing “la la la la” while sticking their fingers in their ears, is a demonstration of how out of touch they are with reality.
As for you, Phil Bump, quit playing cryptogram games and insist on telling it like it is. If the Post won’t print it, tell them to go Frank themselves.