Grabbing Tr**p by the Pussy: Censorship in the Media

Disclaimer: This article contains graphic language.

Since the video of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women was released, news organizations have been questioning whether they should publish exactly what he said word for word, obscenity for obscenity. Ultimately, the words he used and how he used them were newsworthy and news organizations should not water down what he said to avoid publishing profanity.

Organizations like the New York Times, CNN, Politico, Reuters and NBC News all decided against censoring “pussy,” “bitch,” “tits,” or “fuck.” Other organizations, like the LA Times, decided to use substitute words like “crotch” or “genitals” instead. Some organizations decided to put a dashes in place of most letters of the word. The Washington Post, who broke the story, decided to use the hyphen method. The New York Times who, although did not initially censor the story, is now using the hyphen too.

The New York Times released an interview with its political editor, Carolyn Ryan, explaining its decision to use the profanity. After a “spirited discussion” with top editors about censorship, “Ultimately [it was] decided that the words themselves were newsworthy, and that omitting them or merely describing them or slyly hinting at them would not have been forthright with our readers,” Ryan explained.

In 2014, when the assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, said, “Fuck the E.U.” during a phone call, the call was leaked and news organizations had to grapple with the same questions of principle. The Guardian and Reuters, to name a few, published the profanity. At the same time, however, the LA Times said Nuland used “a blunt expletive” when expressing frustration instead of specifically including the statement. The New York Times said she had, “profanely dismissed European efforts in Ukraine as weak and inadequate.” Their paraphrase of what she said is really no comparison in significance to what she actually said. And the same goes for the word “crotch” in place of  “pussy”.  

A great compromise to protecting readers and also making sure the news is accurate is using a trigger warning at the top of an article or the beginning of a broadcast. A trigger warning is similar to a spoiler alert, except it would be warning people of content that might make them uncomfortable or might trigger recollections of traumatic events in the viewer’s life, such as sexual assault. This way, if readers see the warning at the beginning, they can choose not to continue reading or watching.

But there is a difference between profanity in a story that is important for understanding the big picture and profanity that is of minor concern to the overall news value of the story. The Washington Post offers a great example of a story that contains profanity in which censorship would be appropriate. There was a YouTube video shot on a commercial airplane where the passengers engaged in a pillow fight. At the end of the video one of the passengers asked, “Who started this s—t?” The cursing at the end of the video does not make the pillow fight any more or less newsworthy than it already was. Censoring the curse word would not have changed the effect of the video.

But in this case, the words Trump used are disturbing and it is important for the electorate to know that. These words are shocking and they should not be muted. Reading the abbreviations of a profanity can leave a very different feeling than reading the profanity itself. News organizations pick how the news is presented to its readers, and by censoring the words Trump used, they in a way are reducing its value.

One thought on “Grabbing Tr**p by the Pussy: Censorship in the Media”

  1. Thomas Mignanelli says:

    Young lady you deserve congratulations for taking on a subject the “main stream” press will not address!!!!!

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