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 V.15 No.30 | July 27 - August 2, 2006 

Thin Line

Those F*!@ing Expletives--I'm sure you've all heard the "news" by now. President Bush said a bad word.

At the Group of Eight summit on Monday, July 17, Bush expressed his frustrations to Prime Minister Tony Blair over tensions in the Middle East in front of an open mic during a lunchtime photo op. Reports vary over whether he was munching on a buttered roll at the time or just buttering a roll. But there's no disputing what he said. "The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over."

Realizing his mistake, he quickly stuffed his buttered roll into his face and said, with his mouth full, "Son of a b!@*$! Is this f%!*ing thing on???"

Just kidding.

It's a funny slip of the tongue from a man who seems to have never really had the best handle on how to behave behind a microphone--even when he knows the thing's on. Tellingly, the nefarious mic also picked up the president alerting a member of his staff that he didn't need any notes for his speech and would rather just wing it.

What really kills me about all this is that the significance of the conversation was completely overshadowed by the profanity. The talk on the Web the next day was over which major media organizations had used the "s”-word in their reports.

It's a maddeningly puritanical debate, one that's part of my earliest newspaper memories (which, to some folks, might seem like just last week). I'd interviewed a colorful source for a story who had a filthy, filthy mouth. Every single quote contained a number of cuss words. He was the kind of guy who cursed while he let his brain catch up with the sentence.

So what do you do? Do you run the quotes as they are? Do you just pretend he didn't say those words? Do you throw the story away and find another? Do you run the bulky and insulting [expletive] or [expletive deleted]? Do you use a random assembly of symbols?

With Bush, since the cussing was the story, some outlets decided to really let their hair down and just run the word, in all its four-letter glory.

In a reasonable society, this would have all gone down a lot differently. For starters, the cussing wouldn't have been the story of the day. The president's candid look at international politics and its impact would have trumped that. And the media would know that their responsibility isn't to shield their readers from bad language but to report what there is to report.


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