Journalistic Guidelines — Or Shinola Happens

When Tampa Tribune Managing Editor Duke Maas was asked by a deputy editor how he felt about having “damn” and “s—” in a given story in the next day’s paper, he was properly taken aback. In fact, it would have been understandable had he used one or both of the potentially offending words to express that very surprise.

But then he heard the context, one that we’re all familiar with by now.

In an unguarded moment, President Bush had engaged in some candid, open-microphone guy-talk with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Group of Eight summit in Russia. His saltiest observation was: “See, the irony is that what they (U.N.) need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s—, and it’s over.”

This isn’t stop-the-presses stuff. We all know Syria (and Iran) are Hezbollah supporters and suppliers; we all know that President Bush has a rhetorically earthy side; and we all know his frustration wasn’t based on Syria getting Hezbollah to stop doing this, uh, soup. But it is a teachable moment.

Mainstream daily newspapers – as opposed to, say, alternative weeklies – don’t usually run expletives. The St. Petersburg Times , for example, ran the controversial Bush quote as “

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