Trump’s Words And Our Bleeping

Here is where we stand on the issue of bleeping (on-air) the vulgar words used by Donald Trump — and the thinking that got us here.

-  Were Trump’s words “news?” The answer is clearly, “of course.” That has weighed in favor of airing them.

-  Did he use words that are among those that many in our audience would find highly offensive? The answer to that question is also obvious: “yes.” That has weighed against airing them. “Respect” is one of our core principles.

-  Do “community standards” about what is and is not offensive vary widely across the nation and could airing the words generate complaints that might lead to FCC action against some NPR member stations? “Yes” and “yes.” That has weighed against airing them.

-  If we do not “bleep” the words, can we give radio listeners adequate warning so that if they wish to tune out, they can? “Yes, but.” Certainly, we could include an advisory that lets listeners know there is language that many would find offensive and that they might not want children to hear. That would help most of those listening. But not everyone tunes in at the top of the hour or top of a report. What about those who turn on their radios in the middle of a report and one of the first things they hear is Trump’s vulgarity? A warning earlier in the report would be of no use to them.

-  Can we adequately tell the story if we “bleep”  the words? The answer to this question – “yes” — is the deciding factor. By letting the audience know that Trump had spoken in vulgar terms about how he tried to pressure a married woman into having sex with him, and about how an “all-star” such as him could grab a woman’s genitalia as if that was an acceptable thing to do, we have given listeners the key information about the pieces of tape that they will hear. When the cuts are played, there is no serious confusion about what was said – even with the bleeps.

Some will wonder why it is OK to use our digital platforms to give people a choice between hearing Trump’s words “bleeped” and “unbleeped?” The key word there is “choice.” Digital users can decide for themselves whether they wish to hear the words. Radio listeners aren’t always able to do that.

Some may ask “if this wasn’t the time to air such language, will we ever?” I suspect the answer is “yes.” I can’t predict what the circumstances will be. All I can say is that I trust the same amount of hard thinking will be applied.

(“Memmos;” Oct. 11, 2016. Note: This was emailed to staff on Oct. 9, but not posted here until today because I was out of the office.)

October 11, 2016

Comments are closed.