The New York Times’ public editor wondered whether the outlet was right to censor the word “nigger” from its reportage on a Florida state senator’s direct comments.
Liz Spayd, in a Tuesday column, seemed to subtly call out her own publication for refusing to use the exact language Florida State Sen. Frank Artiles used in his profanity laced diatribe to his colleagues.
During a dinner with colleagues, Artiles reportedly used “this fucking asshole,” and “this bitch” in reference to a black female present. He also referred to six white senators as “those six niggers.”
The NYT, Spayd acknowledges, chose to use euphemisms like “a racial slur for black people,” “two expletives” and a “derivative of the n-word.” Spayd admits that the decision may have prevented readers from fully understanding the severity of the situation.
“But if you read the Miami Herald, you’d more fully appreciate the uproar and the rarity of hearing such a crude outburst by an elected official. Artiles is hardly a national figure, but the sustained sexist and racist attack — in the company of an African-American colleague no less — was far beyond the usual ‘hot mic’ stories that periodically surface,” Spayd writes.
Spayd also talked to The Root’s associate editor, Kirsten West Savali, who refused to mince words with reporting Artiles’ comments. Too often, Savali said, the media will report violent actions but not offensive speech.
“I don’t believe in providing cover for racism, so it was never a question for me. It’s not my job to protect the sensibilities of those who are offended by that language,” West Savali explained to Spayd.
West Savali’s comments and other conversations with editors led Spayd to wonder if the NYT had made the right call.
“Sometimes it’s worth re-visiting questions we think we know the answer to, asking whether the choices we made in the past still stand up? Who are we protecting by avoiding offensive language? And at what cost? Or are we engaging in a whitewashing without even realizing it?” Spayd wonders.
NYT editor, Peter Khoury, stood by his decision, saying the words weren’t necessary to the story, and the publication’s stylebook guidelines gave specific rules to follow, Spayd notes.
The NYT did print an unedited transcript in October of President Donald Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” comments.
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