When I wrote a commentary Wednesday night concerning the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s admission that he’d like to commit a particularly intimate act of bodily harm on Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, I didn’t use the actual word of “nuts.”
For one thing, the audio I initially heard was so poor and garbled (which is why Jesse Ventura refused to comment on the matter when questioned Thursday morning on MSNBC by former Chicago newswoman Tamron Hall) that I wasn’t sure which slang term for the male sexual organ the long-time civil rights leader used.
HENCE, I WROTE around it, and made general references to the act of committing bodily harm. Now that I have heard slightly improved audio and can pick out the actual word, I can say that everything I published Thursday stands as written.
I wouldn’t change a single thought. And in pondering the issue in my mind, I would not have used the actual word in copy. People who get obsessed about hearing the actual profanity on tape have too much of “Beavis and Butthead” (“you said butt, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh…” ) in them.
In short, I would have followed the old wire service rule of only using profanity as, “part of direct quotations, and there is a compelling reason for them.” (That’s the stylebook entry for United Press International, my one-time employer).
As I see it, Jackson made a physical threat. Conveying that meaning was what mattered. Which naughty word he used to do so is nothing more than political trivia not much more important as when Rolling Stone magazine recently let us know the contents of Obama’s personal I-pod.
NOW I NOTE the two major metro newspapers in Jackson’s hometown differed on the issue. I can’t say I agree fully with either of them.
The Chicago Tribune suffered from potty-fingers (if someone who says naughty things is a potty mouth, then someone who types them has, well you get it) and gave us the word “nuts” while the Chicago Sun-Times gave us “n---.”
I can already hear the little old ladies of Pontiac and Oswego and all the other rural Midwestern communities where the Tribune is the newspaper of choice when the locals want to know more about that Gomorrah known as Chicago.
They will get all worked up over the fact that The Tribune used a naughty word. Some may even threaten to cancel their subscriptions, all because Rev. Jackson quoted Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s response to the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge.
THIS IS A case where I think the actual word detracts from the story, getting everybody all worked up on a side issue. The serious issue in this case is that Jackson expressed the thoughts of some black people that Obama is willing to sacrifice them with condescending talk in order to get white voters come the Nov. 4 elections.
You may disagree with that premise, but it is an interesting issue to be considered as this presidential campaign progresses. It is definitely more important than talking about whether Rev. Jackson has a dirty mouth, or whether his namesake son, the congressman from Chicago’s south suburbs and Far South Side, was justified in trashing him so vehemently on Wednesday.
But at least the Tribune decided to use the actual word, rather than going to the old tricks (used a lot these days when writing sports stories and trying to convey the crude, often juvenile tone of athletes’ speech) of implying obscenity.
That is what the Sun-Times gave us, reducing the naughty word to a puzzle, by which readers would have to fill in the missing blanks.
THE OTHER COMMON trick is to come up with some sort of word that rhymes with the obscenity so that people can mentally figure out what was really said. I hope there wasn’t anyone out there in the world who really believed that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush back in 2000 referred to a New York Times correspondent as a “brass mole.”
I have always believed (and have argued with many editors, particularly the ones whom I used to work with at the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago) that if one is going to imply an obscenity, one should just come out and use it.
If for whatever reason, one does not think the naughty word should be spelled out, then it should not be used at all in copy.
I stand by my vague writing around of the slang term for the male sex organ on the grounds that what mattered about Jackson’s comments was that he was making a threat (facetious as it may be) of physical harm.
THAT THREAT WOULD have been just as intense had Jackson said he wanted to punch Obama in the face. (What would really be interesting would be the Secret Service detail’s reaction to Jackson trying to do anything to harm Obama).
The implication of a physical threat is what is important. Getting hung up on the naughty-sounding slang term does nothing more than feed the mentality of the Buttheads and Beavises of the world.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Is public attention to the Rev. Jesse Jackson having a potty mouth (http://www.illinipundit.com/2008/07/10/state-american-political-discourse) stealing attention away from discussion of more crucial issues.
When is non-use (http://dingesgang.com/blog/?p=382) of a “profanity” responsible, and when (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joan-garry-/what-is-it-that-jesse-jac_b_111909.html) is it just lame?
Barack Obama is accepting Jackson’s apology. Somehow, I suspect the reverend’s (http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hTPPM5eyoWa5PgeObNcWP0chAopQD91QVB9O2) invitation to the inaugural ball in January still will get lost in the mail.