Inside the newsroom: When a profane statement is used

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

FILE – President Donald Trump speaks during an event to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


The Deseret News, like all media organizations, had a decision to make. When the president of the United States used profane and derogatory terms to describe Haiti and Africa, the discussion was: Should we publish the word as it was said or have some restraint, particularly when the subject is famous for his lack of restraint.

I’m speaking, of course of President Donald Trump’s words that now have circled the world, impacting our nation and other nations of the world, particularly those he disparaged. In a meeting on immigration, the president said the following, as reported in The Washington Post:

“‘What do we want Haitians here for, the president asked, according to the people briefed. ‘Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from …’” and then came the expletive description.

The Deseret News, like every media company, has style guidelines. Some are based on the AP Stylebook, a longtime standard-bearer, and some are based on a Deseret News style guide, which takes into account the uniqueness of Utah, or terminology in the LDS Church, among other things. The New York Times is one of the few media outlets that continues to use respectful titles of Mr. and Mrs.

For the most part, profanity is kept out of mainstream media articles. Certain words like racial slurs and profanity remain so startling that they can distract from the article being read. It stops the reader, or makes the use of the word itself its own story. And the words offend many readers.

So the option is to describe the word, use “expletive deleted” in its place or show the word, but lessen the impact on readers such as children using dashes or asterisks where letters would otherwise appear.

The Deseret News chose that option, knowing it would still convey an accurate message, but also allow us to maintain our standards. We don’t shy away from reporting on the harsh things of the…

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