Why NPR Decided To Spell Out And Say Vulgar Word Used By President Trump

Jan 12, 2018
Originally published on January 12, 2018 3:17 pm
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While listening to NPR today, you might have heard us use a certain offensive word. It was reportedly said by President Trump yesterday during a meeting on immigration with members of Congress. And at first, NPR did not say the word. We referred to it as vulgar language. Then this morning, we decided to include it in our coverage. With me to explain that decision is Mark Memmott, our standards and practices editor. Hello, Mark.


MCEVERS: So Mark, let me just get this out of the way right now. You and I are not actually going to say the word in this conversation, and you will explain why in a minute. But first just explain why we didn't say it last night.

MEMMOTT: Last night we didn't think the word itself was really integral to the story, that we could tell the important parts of the story - what the conversation meant to the negotiations over DACA, what it might have said about the president's view towards African nations versus Norway - and we could characterize the word without saying it. And frankly, we also at first didn't have our own reporting on it. That took a little while. We wanted to get that to make sure we were on solid ground.

MCEVERS: Was part of the issue also the need to stay within the FCC's guidance on offensive language?

MEMMOTT: That has to be in the back of any broadcasters' mind. The FCC could take action, could try to fine one of our member stations. Legal bills would start running. We don't want such legal bills to start running needlessly. That said, if we think a word is important and integral to a story, we'll take the risk.

MCEVERS: Right. And so that is why we are now saying the word on our air. We've decided that it's important to the story, but there are limits.

MEMMOTT: Exactly. We do think it's important to the story. The limits are we don't want to sort of pound it at the audience that every story has to use the word and explain it yet again. Say it once. Move on, and then talk about what it means to the issues that were being discussed at that meeting in the White House.

MCEVERS: I've heard from a lot of listeners who say they deserve to be informed. This came up with the "Access Hollywood" tape when the president talked about where he would grab women. And we didn't say that on our air, but people say they deserve to know.

MEMMOTT: Yes, and there are ways for them to find that information. And last night we directed people to our website where we had that information so they'd be able to find it. Certainly they could have turned on cable news. We don't want them to do that. We want them to listen to us. But if they wanted to see it, it was there for the whole world to see. Sometimes people appreciate the fact that we try to focus on the substance and the meaning and put it in context rather than the shock value of a word.

MCEVERS: Mark Memmott, our standards and practices editor, thank you.

MEMMOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.