Vulgar language unfit for TV
Published: Sunday, April 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 16, 2012 14:04
After the arrest of two men in the case of the Good Friday Shootings in Tulsa, Okla., the media has turned its eye to a Facebook post made by one of the suspects prior to the shooting, which left three African Americans dead and two wounded.
The post, made by 19-year-old murder suspect Jacob England, laments the murder of his own father just two years ago. He uses a crude adjective, the F-word, and a racial slur, the N-word, to refer to his father’s killer.
But using these mere euphemisms was not enough for CNN’s on-air reporters, who chose to repeat the explicit language verbatim in live news reports.
“There was a Facebook posting made just the other day,” CNN correspondent Susan Candiotti said in a live report from Tulsa. “Please excuse the language; it’s very sensitive: Shot by a f——— n——-.”
“Candiotti’s report marked the second time in three weeks that a CNN reporter quoted the racial epithet during news coverage,” Poynter’s Adam Hochberg said. “The previous occasion came March 21, when correspondent Drew Griffin repeated comments allegedly made by the defendant in a Mississippi hate-crime case.”
CNN news host Don Lemon also expressed his support of using the word on-air, arguing that euphemisms exchanged in its place only waterdown its true vulgarity. But does accurately quoting hate speech make a story any more truthful? Does it bring any new and necessary level of understanding to the broadcast’s audience?
Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of ABC’s The View, even defended reporters’ use of the word and was bleeped by her own producers.
When to use vulgar language in news reports is a tricky question. Reporters must balance their commitment to truth with the need to protect their viewers, listeners and readers from harm.
Online news sites and print news publications are much better suited for running racist or other hate speech exactly as it appeared originally. But cable news networks that air with closed captions in sandwich shops, airports and YMCAs across the country should simply swap in the euphemism. The audience gets it.
CNN’s recent broadcasts involving vulgar speech come at an odd time considering heavy scrutiny over the media’s handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting. First, an NBC producer was found to have edited George Zimmerman’s 911 call in a way that mislead viewers into thinking Zimmerman was a confirmed racist. And now, the folks at CNN are suddenly dropping the N-word in combination with the F-word in live news broadcasts.
These decisions aren’t exactly helping calm the brewing racial tensions in the U.S. in the wake of the Martin tragedy.