Standards and double standards

The New York Times lets some swears slide, but not others

In March 2009, B (who prefers to remain anonymous) found that her social media feeds were inundated with updates from people who couldn’t stop detailing the minutia of their lives as new parents. B decided that oversharing, sanctimonious, and social media-savvy parents could use some public shaming, and the blog STFU, Parents was born.

B is not alone in her frustrations. As The New York Times noted in an article last week, a new browser extension called was created to replace Facebook feed-clogging baby photos with pictures the user would prefer to see.

Times readers do not need to download such a filter for bad words. The newspaper does it for them. Sometimes.

B found this out when she happened upon the Times’s piece, which also mentioned her own site. STFU, Parents’s tagline—“You used to be fun. Now you have a baby”—was quoted without referring to B’s blog by name or linking to it. This was a conspicuous absence, considering that several other anti-baby/anti-parent services, sites, and tweets were attributed and linked to in that same article.

As B recounted on her site, her email to the Times asking for attribution was returned by senior editor for standards Greg Brock, who explained that it was not named because the “F” in “STFU” stood for “fuck,” and printing that word was against the Times’s standards:

I suspect you will not agree with this decision. But this is part of the standards of The Times. For one reason, we don’t like to include such references for younger readers — or for any readers who might be offended. Granted, we aren’t the parents of young readers. But we feel some obligation to try to maintain The Times as a respectable publication and respect all of our readers.

You have your approach. Other publications have their approach. And we have ours. That’s what makes the world go round. And isn’t it great that we all have the freedom to choose what to publish and what not to?

STFU is a common abbreviation for the phrase “shut the fuck up,” though B’s choice to use the letter instead of the word was deliberate, she told The Atlantic Wire’s Jen Doll, who, along with Salon and The New York Observer, has written about the attribution omission.

Also deliberate was the Times’s decision not to mention or link to B’s website. The article was written by freelancer Austin Considine, who pens the weekly “Noted” column for the Fashion and Style section. Considine says that his final version of the article he submitted contained the site’s name and a link. “It was taken out by an editor before it went to press,” he says.

It is understandable that a newspaper would have a policy against curse words. What’s strange here is that the Times does not consistently apply this standard. There are many examples of the word “fuck” and acronyms with the letter “F” in them (including - yes - “STFU,” as B pointed out). Surely those examples are just as potentially offensive to the “young readers” Brock told B the standards were meant to protect? How does their inclusion help “maintain the Times as a respectable publication and respect all of our readers” but “STFU, Parents” does not? Why not at least link to the website as with all the other sources cited in the piece? The word “fuck” does not actually appear in the title of B’s site. But readers can see it displayed prominently on another site the article did link to—, tagline: “Because we’re sick of all these fucking babies.”

Times public editor Arthur Brisbane wrote in an email that he recognized “there may have been inconsistencies in following the policy cited by Greg Brock,” but that he supported the policy itself. “I have no problem with the decision not to link the web site in question,” he wrote.

Brock did not respond to CJR’s request for comment. He told B that he believed the standards were applied consistently:

As I said, it’s a consistent policy. And the exact same issue came up within the past week. We run into this across the board: with names of plays, songs and so forth. It’s just our policy. No doubt, plenty of people think we are sticks in the mud or antiquated. We just try to do what is right for us.

B says it “would’ve been fantastic” to get extra traffic via a link from the Times. Instead, she got a lecture. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an email like that from anyone but my father,” she says.

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Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison. Tags: , ,