Why Did 60 Minutes Censor on the Web But Not on the Air?

The backstory of why an exotic dancer's comments ran unaltered Sunday night, yet were censored on CBSNews.com.

On Sunday night on 60 Minutes, CBS’s Ed Bradley interviewed the three erstwhile Duke University lacrosse players accused earlier this year of raping a stripper during an off-campus party. Throughout the persuasive piece, 60 Minutes turned up a number of “disturbing facts” about the resulting police investigation and raised the possibility of prosecutorial misconduct surrounding the players’ indictments.

At the start of the segment, CBS warned viewers of the graphic nature of the program. And, sure enough, between the descriptions of the dancers’ performance at the party and the explicit accusations of rape, there was plenty of choice language throughout the piece.

During the show, Bradley also interviewed Kim Roberts — one of the exotic dancers who, along with the alleged victim, performed at the party on the night in question. During the course of the interview, Roberts described how at one point during that night, she and the alleged victim left the party and prepared to drive off. According to Roberts, as they were getting into a car, one of the lacrosse players made a disparaging comment about her appearance, and she responded in kind.

“What did you say to him,” asked Bradley.

“I don’t know if I can say that on 60 Minutes,” said Roberts.

“Well, we’ll bleep it out,” said Bradley.

“I called him a little-dick white boy,” she said, laughing. “And how he couldn’t get it on his own and had to pay for it. So, he was mad. And it ended with him callin’ me the n-word. And it echoed, so you heard nigger once, and then you heard, nigger, nigger, nigger.”

As it turns out, the producers at 60 Minutes chose not to bleep out Roberts’ comments. But elsewhere at CBS News, those same words met a different fate. To wit: following Sunday night’s show, CBSNews.com published a piece about the 60 Minutes segment which essentially reproduced the final transcript of the show — plus some additional bleeping:

“I called him a little [expletive] white boy,” she recalls laughing. “And how he couldn’t get it on his own and had to pay for it. So, he was mad. And it ended with him callin’ me the n-word. And it echoed, so you heard n….. once, and then you heard, n….., n….., n….. .”

So why censor Roberts’ comments on the Internet, which is famously full of potty-mouthed name-calling, and yet not censor her comments on television, where the FCC standards police have been known to hand out whopping fines?

Kevin Tedesco, a spokesman for 60 Minutes, says that the discrepancy doesn’t reflect some broader policy decision at CBS. Rather, it was the result of a simple mistake. “They’re usually in synch,” says Tedesco. “Whatever is used on the air would be used on the Web site.”

According to Tedesco, the CBS employee who wrote the Web story mistakenly assumed after reading Bradley’s comment that the show’s producers had gone ahead and edited out Roberts’ reply. “He assumed wrongly that we would be bleeping that out,” says Tedesco.

Tedesco says that in this case the segment’s executive producer decided not to censor the comments, which didn’t involve one of “[George] Carlin’s seven words,” and thus didn’t necessarily run afoul of FCC restrictions.

“In general it depends on the context, and how crucial the word is,” says Tedesco. “In this case, it was crucial to the context and helps explain the situation. The executive producer wants to make sure that we don’t confuse people and that we represent exactly what happened to the best of our ability.”

All of which is a great relief to CJR Daily. We were worried there for a minute that the Inter-webs might finally be cleaning up its act.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.