Profanity In Journalism Growing


I post about this matter as I care about journalism.  As a daily user of newspapers and magazines, I have come to expect professionalism when it comes to reporting news and providing analysis.  I have a desire to be respected as a reader and subscriber. (You should too!)

I read an article in the July 4th edition of The Economist, a publication I have subscribed to for nearly 20 years.  It has a  sterling worldwide reputation both with reporting as well as well-honed writing.   But as this blog has noted, over time, the lowest common denominators have even impacted this weekly publication.

In an article about capital punishment, Cruel, Unusual, And Costly it was the very last line that irritated me.  In quoting a Republican lawmaker from Ohio this was what was published.   The spelling reflects the home country of the publishers.

“People just realise it’s inhumane as s****”

Nothing whatsoever is so conveyed in that quote that an alternate sentence could not have been inserted.  This was a choice made by a reporter and allowed by an editor. And then printed in a mass volume for the subscribers to read.

I am so very tired of the shallow end of the pool getting deeper and impacting the rest of us who have standards.  Those standards might seem old-fashioned, but only to those with a limited vocabulary when it comes to talking—-or as in this case–reporting.

And so it goes.

Vulgar Language Not Needed In Wall Street Journal Story

Vulgar language jumped off the printed page of The Wall Street Journal today.  Not only was it coarse language, but it was sloppy journalism along with lazy writing.  Let us not also forget editing was sleeping on the job, too.  Having written a few sentences in my life for public consumption it was most apparent how the facts could have been presented in the article without having the paper succumb to the lowest usage of language in the land.

The story Eric Trump Steers Family Empire Under Father’s Close Watch dealt with how the real-estate empire is faring during a pandemic.   Sourcing an advisor the paper felt it needed to insert a quote they knew to be so over the top they could not use all the letters of the final word.


It offends my intelligence when such lines are used in national newspapers and publications.  It lowers the bar so others feel it more than proper to imitate such reporting.   Such allowances in papers of esteem, such as the WSJ, alerts me that our national discourse is ever hardening and becoming more offensive.

I still operate by two hurdles when writing in public forums.  Would the word(s) be accepted at dinner tables around the nation, and would my former employer in radio, a former broadcaster for WGN Chicago, have allowed it to air in Sturgeon Bay (WDOR)?

Words matter.

Madison Conservative Calls America “S-(***) Hole Of A Nation”…Twice

Readers at Caffeinated Politics over the years have known me to call attention to the use of curse words used in publications such as Isthmus (for using the same word as in the headline to this blog), national publications like Newsweek (for the F word), and The New Yorker (for the same language now used publically by a Madison conservative).  I have also, over the years, called attention to various public individuals who from their position have debased themselves with their word choices.

This weekend I read the latest article from Paula Fitzsimmons, a Madison conservative who advocates for local police and their issues.  Had it not been for the two lines posted below she would not be mentioned here today.  Her article is the same complaints that have been registered before. Yada Yada.

But then this…..

….They’re the ones who will have to inherit this s*** hole of a nation we’ve become…

…I don’t have kids who will have to inherit this s*** hole of a nation we’ve become….

I am not the word police, nor want to be one.  But there is a lowering of standards and foundations that do catch my attention and concerns me.  It would seem that any true conservative could at least agree with me on that point.

Words matter and how they are used does reflect on the person using them.  Trash talk just gives the perception of a lower-educated and less serious-minded person.  That is true if on the printed page of a magazine, from a national leader, or one who wishes to make a point about local police matters with an online article.

I know one thing for certain.  As someone who has worked in broadcasting and reported a fair share of news stories, and handled press relations in a legislator’s office the number one rule is that words matter.  Words reflect who we are, what values we have, and wish to share with others.

Since 2015 I have written many times about the crude and offensive language used by Donald Trump.  I have lamented that his behavior is unsettling and that others are picking it up as their own.  As an example, Trump’s use of “s***hole countries” in a White House meeting was vulgar and racist.  It is because of that type of language used by Trump, and often from a microphone, that more than one teacher has spoken to me about how boys feel more empowered to talk as they wish in school.  Parents have told me how more difficult it is to set certain norms in the home when kids can accurately state, “the president says it”.

When children mimic cursing and coarse language we chalk it up to ‘learning a new word’ or ‘acting out’.  When an adult blatantly does it… is just classless.

And so it goes.

“Foreign Virus” Makes Trump Smaller, Failed To Lift His Stature In Oval Office Address

I was in the car for a drive this evening as Donald Trump took to the airwaves from the Oval Office.  Trump was not more than a minute or so into his prepared remarks when he uttered a phrase that made me hold the steering wheel tighter.  Trump spoke of the health threat we face coming from a “foreign virus”.  I looked at the radio computerized dial and just could not fathom that I had heard it correctly.

I was stunned that Trump would allow his xenophobia to even be inserted into this crisis.  I wanted to yell that viruses do not have a nationality but held back as I did not want to miss his heavy and labored breathing, and whatever else he had to say.  (Listening to the radio for such events is something I much prefer as it allows for a different tone to be gathered from a speech.  But I must say Trump’s nasal contortions were nauseating.)

The racism from Trump was most disturbing, and while certainly not a new thing, sends a message that even in a time of crisis Trump can not rise to the level of credibility and behavior that we are told the office forces the elected one to meet.

I know that my readers grasp the fact this is a global threat that can only be resolved by working with, and not against, all the other nations of the world.  While listening to Trump it seemed he actually believes the ‘foreign virus‘ can be stopped from outside the country when it’s already here.

Banning European flights as the centerpiece of his speech was a strategic way to attempt to frame the virus as “foreign,” or “other,” or “not happening here.”  This use of this plan is designed to make people who still don’t believe this is a serious virus–except that this virus is 10x more lethal than the flu-– to have people incorrectly conclude there is a way to keep it out of the country.

Historians will write of this night and this moment in our nation’s story.  And it will be noted that at the time when events and time offered an opening for Trump to rise up to the office, he instead chose to remain a small, troubled, and divisive man.

And xenophobic.

Not Being Able To Connect With Historical Or Social References

In the Wall Street Journal today I stopped to read a story about the New York Knicks.  Long-time readers are saying, “What?”  ( I am known not to be a sports fan.)  But the story revolved around Spike Lee and a dust-up about what door he could use when making his way into the stadium to see his favorite team play.  Jason Gay is one of the few sportswriters I pay attention to as he has a way with words that makes even this topic worth a read.

Gay did not prove me wrong as half-way through his story he wrote the following line. The Knicks losing Spike is akin to LBJ losing Cronkite.

The line jumped out at me for far more than the story about Lee.  Rather it fit with the narrative that has played out this week.  There was the blowback following the description from MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, who made a remark about World War II following the Nevada Democratic caucuses.

“I was reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940,” he said. “And the general, Reynaud, calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over.’ And Churchill says: ‘How can that be? You’ve got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.’ So I had that suppressed feeling.”

One of my on-line friends called the comment obscure, not knowing at all what Matthews was talking about from a historical point of view.  But at the same time, she was demanding that  ‘something be done’ as her Bernie Sanders friends claimed he had made a “Nazi” remark.

Later this week another on-line friend wanted me to know it was utterly absurd that I could possibly defend Joe Biden after he called a woman at one of his campaign events a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier”.  Once again the lack of cultural references and touchstones to our past demonstrates how unattached we are from one another.

It’s not even the first time Biden has used the phrase. At a 2018 campaign event, talking about the Republican senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Biden said: “As my brother, who loves to use lines from movies, from John Wayne movies … there’s a line in a movie where an Indian chief turns to John Wayne and says: ‘This is a lying, dog-faced pony soldier.’”

Biden’s spokespeople said the line comes from a John Wayne film – but it’s not clear it does. There is a 1952 western called Pony Soldier, but it does not star John Wayne, and no one is called a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” in it, according to Slate.  The general consensus seems to be that Biden is probably thinking of the 1952 Tyrone Power film Pony Soldier, in which a character says, “The pony soldier speaks with a tongue of the snake that rattles.”

The continuing erosion of our national commonalities has long been a concern of mine. I voice that issue, from time to time, on this blog.  The lack of reading the classics, having mainstream sources of news where a vast majority of citizens get their news (as in the era of Cronkite), and failing to teach history in a thematic manner all have contributed to this larger problem.

More and more it becomes so apparent that normal discussions have to be watered down or hyper-explained to carry along some in a conversation. It not only is trying on a personal level but works to add more fractures to the national tension that runs high.

P.S. When CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite let it be known at the end of one his broadcasts that the war in Vietnam was lost, President Johnson knew he had lost this country’s faith.  Johnson stated that when he lost Walter, he had also lost the country.

Our Changing Times


A delightful winter day has unfolded across Wisconsin.  Snow and bitter cold were felt by most of the state this week but sunshine and warming temps today make any window you sit by a reason to smile.  While reading this week’s magazines (with mugs of coffee) it struck me not only how the recent headlines change and stories evolve but also how much we, as a country, are changing.

As noted in a letter to the editor in The Economist “a recent survey found that a third of millennial dads do not even own a hammer.”  Meanwhile, in Time the Conversation column is nothing more than a few words from tweets by readers which allows us the chance to read a selected phrase of their thoughts. The British publication, it should be noted, devoted a full page to letters.

The truncated style of writing is troubling for two reasons.  Most people are not adept at using a limited number of words to convey a thought.  ( I know how creating headlines for blog posts takes more than a fleeting thought, as an example.)  Secondly, most readers of magazines wish to have a broader perspective than that which is contained in a tweet.   Time wants to be ‘modern’ and meet readers ‘where they are’ as opposed to The Economist which values a readership who desires well-crafted sentences and fleshed-out ideas.

And then there was this large-font statement in an advertisement for Oatly Oat Milk.

“This tastes like (expletive)! Blah!”

In The New Yorker (page 13) appeared what I am seeing more and more.  The allowance for words that not so long ago would not have been permitted in these types of publications.  I am not the word police, or nor want to be one.  But there is a lowering of standards and foundations that do catch my attention and concerns me.

Words matter and how they are used does reflect on the person using them.  Trash talk just gives the perception of a lower-educated and less serious-minded person.  That is true if on the printed page of a magazine or made by the leader of a nation.

Perhaps there is marketing that shows younger demographics will try oat milk because it used an advertising gimmick.  But those of us who have a hammer in the house, and know how to use it, understand the necessity of drinking cows milk for muscles and good health.

And choosing word usage that reflects well on who we are.

And so it goes.

(Now get off my lawn…)

Made It Three Minutes Into The Grammy Awards…

…and then came this line in what is called music.

I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100 percent that bitch”.

I refuse to put up with this trash and have it come into our home.


Time for a movie.

Standing up For Mary Louise Kelly

We all know about the shameful language from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Over the past hours, many an analysis has been offered about the truly unsettling behavior from Pompeo.  The Atlantic has a great perspective.   

Mary Louise Kelly undoubtedly has dozens of techniques for making a sophisticated interviewee reveal more than he wishes, just as Pompeo has dozens of techniques for parrying her questions. On the air, he resorted to the worst of these techniques, which is simply to flee the interviewer. But his subsequent assumption that she would consent to being browbeaten in private, that he could just stop the interview like a child calling a time-out in a game of street hockey, was both foolish and arrogant. Even kids know that you can call a time-out to let a car pass, but not to stop your opponent from scoring a goal—let alone to stop him from scoring a goal and then give him a noogie.

Pompeo says Kelly’s conduct shows why Americans “distrust many in the media.” One can see why Pompeo might distrust the media: We want him to reveal more than he wants to reveal. (And we seek these revelations routinely, from sophisticated sources of all parties.) But he was the one who scrambled for cover when asked a question, and whose scrambling was revealed, with total transparency, on the air.