No, the New York Times Didn’t Change Its “Fuck” Policy

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/cat.mhtml?lang=en&search_source=search_form&version=llv1&anyorall=all&safesearch=1&searchterm=censorship&search_group=#id=126178208&src=LsS0NpXruckoYXfAjxfRBQ-1-14">fotoscool</a>/Shutterstock

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


On Monday, Salon’s Laura Miller reported on an almost mythical creature—an actual F-bomb in the pages of the New York Times. According to Miller, the use of the word “fuck,” in an excerpt from Jonathan Lethem’s new novel Dissident Gardens, constituted the paper of record’s “first ever use of the word.” As she put it, “With the discretion of a well-bred debutante, the Times has just lost its F-bomb virginity, so to speak.” Lethem, reached for comment, told Miller he was “delighted.”

But it’s not the first time the paper has used “fuck” or one of its variants. The Times‘ anti-profanity editorial policy is, as Salon has chronicled before, often absurd, leading to the awkward censorship of band names, book titles, and, at least once, the vice president of the United States. But it only applies to nonfiction. A quick search through the paper’s archives reveals dozens of instances of F-bombs casually inserted in fiction excerpts. Most of the time those are online-only features that supplement print reviews, but occasionally the word makes its way into the paper itself. And in some extenuating circumstances, such as the publication of the 1998 Starr Report, the paper’s news desk has consented to publish the F-word as it appears in quotes.

And there’s this, which was excerpted in the September 21, 2003, edition of the Times: “He might even be truly sick, fucked up, in pain, who knew? Your only option was to say dang, white boy, what’s your problem? I didn’t even touch you. And move on.” A few paragraphs later: “Play that fucking music, white boy! Stretching the last two words to a groaning, derisive, Bugs-Bunnyesque whyyyyyyyboy!”

The author? Jonathan Lethem.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate