Newspaper headlines are meant to grab a reader’s attention.
On Thursday, the Washington Post published a headline on the home page of its website Thursday reporting what two unnamed people reportedly told the paper about President Donald Trump’s profane assessment of Haiti, El Salvador and some African countries during an Oval Office meeting about a potential bipartisan immigration deal.
The Post said the two people were briefed on the meeting. It did not say they were at the meeting and heard Trump.
Other news organizations chose to use alternative spellings, including dashes, of Trump’s word that still allowed readers to ascertain his meaning.
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Printing profanity is something that news organizations have internally debated for years. Some do on a limited basis when it tells the story and some don’t under no circumstances.
Almost from the start, journalism students are taught to avoid using profanity in their stories. And certainly not in headlines.
UNC-Chapel Hill journalism professor Andy Bechtel said he covers the topic in his editing classes.
“What do we do when people use profanity in direct quotes and do we publish that?” Bechtel said. “Or do we use say ‘using vulgar language’ or some other way to indicate that what’s happened but not use the word itself?
“I’m curious to see if they’ll put it on the print edition on the front page or elsewhere in the print edition. It’s always a tricky situation. On the one hand, it’s profanity it’s going to offend some people. On the other hand in this case, it is the president saying it so, that makes news. It’s interesting to see how it’s going to play out.”
As word spread online of the Post’s decision to use “shithole” in both the story and headline about Trump’s meeting, the reaction was quick and the debate was fierce.