Was droll Jim Romenesko having a bit of fun when he wrote this item? I think so:
Tori Daugherty’s complaint about the cursing in “All The President’s Men” got two grafs in Deborah Howell’s WP ombud column Sunday. The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel devoted 22 grafs to the 15-year-old girl’s appearance in the big-city paper.
Here’s the WashPost column. Here’s the 22-graf story-about-the-story. Here’s the part I noticed: A teenager is interested in working in journalism, but not if people are going to talk the way they did in “All the President’s Men.”
“I find it ignorant that a person who writes and a person who uses language would use language in that way,�? she said of the journalists portrayed in the film.
The story is unclear, but the chain of events seems to be: She saw the movie in journalism class, and brought her case for its offensiveness before the principal first. Unsatisfied, she then wrote to the Washington Post, demanding answers, because she’s considering journalism as a career but “I don’t want to be around (that kind of) language a lot.�? The ombudsman thought her letter was adorable and patted her wee head:
“Yes, Tori, many journalists curse,�? Howell wrote in The Post. “They curse when their computers break down, when people lie to them, when they make mistakes and when they’re on deadline. But usually, they’re nice to people…Please don’t think that cursing is a prerequisite to be a journalist. A promising young journalist who does not curse would be a welcome addition to any newsroom.�?
Awww, how sweet. When I read that, I knew that not only does young Tori have a future in journalism, she’s management material. In fact, she might as well just bypass the newsroom entirely and go straight to an endowed chair at the Poynter Institute. And then, as these incidents frequently prompt me to do, I took a trip down Memory Lane.
(Gilligan’s Island-style swimming-screen effects here.)
We had a girl like that in our college newsroom. She was a transfer, from a small Catholic girls’ college that couldn’t take her all the way to a journalism degree. Catholics speak of “formation,” the molding of souls and intellects and the rest of it, and this girl was well-formed, in more ways than one. You could have balanced a demitasse cup on her head all day, and it wouldn’t wobble. I recall her face held one expression, which suggested she had just smelled something offensive. And she had many opinions about her new school. I only recall one: That the deadlines in journalism class were impossible. The newswriting class was 90 minutes, and the way the drill usually worked, you got an assignment in the first half-hour, and then had an hour to write your story, due at the end of class. This was simply ridiculous, in her opinion; the nuns gave you a week. (Of course the class was structured this way for a very good reason — the ratio of assignments-that-must-be-finished-in-an-hour and those-that-must-be-finished-in-a-week is, for a beginning reporter, pretty lopsided. So you might as well get your practice before your paycheck depends on it.)
This was in the days before people felt the need to inform total strangers of their sexual history, but I’m pretty sure she let us know she was wearing the letter V and would be until her wedding night.
And the punchline: She was a faultless beauty. Blonde, clear skin, fine features. She could have stood toe-to-toe with Grace Kelly and not blinked.
She disapproved of swearing, too, which is probably why she wore that expression all the time, because the walls of our college newspaper office were covered with graffiti, much of it obscene. (There was a list of euphemisms for masturbation that covered a quarter of a bathroom wall and may have been the root cause of her distress, as it included the phrase “polishing the bishop.”)
Anyway, I don’t know if this story has a point or what, but as I recall, she really, really didn’t fit in, which could say as much about us as her — we were all pretty insufferable back then. But she still found a career in journalism. Believe me, I was shocked to discover this, but a few months ago I got an e-mail from my friend Deb, who as a fellow Catholic-school transfer took a particular interest in her, informing me that not only was our former classmate gainfully employed, she was …wait for it… a columnist.
I looked up her portfolio. She still disapproves of many, many things.
So be not discouraged, Tori. I’m sure your path through the dirty-talking portion of the newspaper business will be straight and swift. Columnists frequently have doors they can close and lock. Better yet, many work from home.
I never liked Joe Lieberman. I never understood the need for Gore to choose a “values candidate” after Clinton, as the voters had pretty overwhelmingly demonstrated that they considered what Clinton did forgivable. (If you were one of those upset by Clinton’s shenanigans in office, consider the alternative. Doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?) He always had that listen-to-me-the-orthodox-Jewish-sage thing going on, but in the end, a veep is always a shrug issue, for a voter — what can you do? No one votes for a veep.
I like him even less today. John Scalzi sums it up pretty succinctly.
I read Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck” yesterday. I would add it to “On the Nightstand,” but it never made it that far; I realized I’d read most of it before in various magazines, and the parts I hadn’t read I consumed while making dinner. Wide margins, generous line spacing, not very thick to start with — you know the drill. That didn’t make it unenjoyable. I will always enjoy Nora Ephron’s essays, no matter what. When I was in that graffiti-smeared college newsroom, Ephron was my role model, and still is, in many ways. Her deft touch is one I’ve aped all my writing life, and I’ve never forgiven her for stopping for so long, to make all those awful movies (with the exception of “When Harry Met Sally…”). I guess she had her reasons.
That said, there’s no single essay in here that comes close to the best of her earlier work, but ah well, the book’s about aging, so you can’t really expect it, can you? Still, very enjoyable. You could do worse.
Dorothy said on August 9, 2006 at 1:29 pm
I know I’ve mentioned before that my daughter is a copy editor in Virginia. She used to be a stick-in-the-mud about swearing. I have no idea why she was like this. We weren’t exactly uncontrollable swear mongers at home, but I certainly never censored myself if I felt the urge to use four letter words. And I was just a bit more circumspect when I’d drop the f-bomb around my kids once they were teenagers. (Now they think it’s hilarious when I do this. Josh frequently says “Go Mom!” when I use it.)
Anyway, I’m happy to report that she has joined with the rest of us in our family and no longer steps on her tongue when she feels the need to swear. Maybe working at PSU’s Daily Collegian newspaper helped her in that department. Or maybe it was the semester she spent in Manchester, England with 7 roommates in a flat. Come to think of it, she did seem much looser when she came home from there! (Nancy you cracked me up with the comment about Tori being management material!)
Danny said on August 9, 2006 at 2:26 pm
Nancy, can you divulge the name of the columnist?
mary said on August 9, 2006 at 3:09 pm
If Tori could watch all of “All the President’s Men,” and only wonder about the swearing, she needs to recalibrate her sensibilities. Wasn’t she a little shocked by the events the journalists were covering? Wasn’t she impressed by the role the journalists played in exposing the corruption and crime? Nah, it all pales when compared to saying no no words.
colleen said on August 9, 2006 at 3:33 pm
Hm. Good point, Mary.
Was the graffiti something left over many years? I’d be curious if my mom left any during her time there.
But knowing her, probably not.
Kirk said on August 9, 2006 at 3:56 pm
if you don’t get back to the P.S. thread, i’ll take this opportunity to thank you for the link to the beck thing. hilarious
Danny said on August 9, 2006 at 4:22 pm
brian stouder said on August 9, 2006 at 4:40 pm
speaking of books that are enjoyable enough – I am finishing a book about Walt Disney, written by Steven Watts – the same guy who wrote a tremendously good bio of Henry Ford.
His book about Disney predates his Ford book by about 9 years, and an interesting sidelight is Watts’ formula of seeking out American cultural icons and then consciously paying homage to them.
That said, though, he (Watts) hadn’t really perfected his approach yet
mary said on August 9, 2006 at 5:26 pm
I’m reading “The Falls” by Joyce Carol Oates. I’m liking it a lot, but then I always like Joyce Carol Oates books.
mary said on August 9, 2006 at 5:30 pm
You know, I was up on the Labor and Delivery unit this morning, and it occurs to me that this Tori person should avoid ever giving birth. I heard some bad language coming out of one of the L&D rooms. Loud bad language. I wonder if bad language is a prerequisite to motherhood? Maybe Tori should write to some obstetrician and ask.
nancy said on August 9, 2006 at 6:42 pm
The graffiti was mostly of recent vintage. I think the university enforced a painting schedule.
My favorite was the one where someone wrote BURNING ISSUES in giant letters, painted them with rubber cement and set them on fire. The scorch effect was very cool.
Although I’m not surprised the fire marshall nearly shut us down, many times.
Bob said on August 9, 2006 at 8:15 pm
I’m not prudish about naughty words; I may even let slip one or two, myself, from time to time. I used to be more generous in their use, but now I tend to reserve them for special occasions, like when I’m really f***ing pissed off!
Gratuitous profanity reminds me too much of one of my parents’ neighbors who spewed the stuff like a ruptured sewer pipe. Rumor said he came north to deliver a truckload of watermelons from someplace in the backwoods south, and stayed because his truck broke down. He had about as much class as the local denizens in “Deliverance.”
It annoys me that some writers and speakers feel compelled to use nasty language to get people’s attention because their skills are otherwise inadequate to the task.
I’m more offended by journalists, authors and other self-described professional communicators who can’t express themselves competently in a spoken interview. Often I’ve punched the “off” button in exasperation after trying to listen to an interview on NPR.
People who get paid to communicate using language, and who can’t answer a simple question without launching into “Well, … y’know, ummm-ahhh, like …” should be relieved of their credentials and sent back to a high school public speaking class for remedial training. If they persist in using “y’know” multiple times per sentence, they should have their tongues ripped out. That group includes some public radio commentators and hosts.
Liberals don’t have a lock on the trait, but they seem to lead the field in their inability to utter a coherent sentence without babbling and stammering. It’s frustrating to hear an advocate for peace, civil rights and human dignity come off sounding like a 1970s stoner while his/her more articulate neo-con opponent presents his case in logical-sounding, well-ordered, smooth-flowing statements.
vince said on August 10, 2006 at 1:10 am
I spent all my formative years in TV newsrooms filled with profanity. I interned in Denver where cursing was not common but not unheard of.
The first paying gig took me to Wichita. Now that newsroom overflowed with profanity. But that was a young staff. Perhaps age and maturity had an effect.
To my astonishment, I landed in big city Dallas, Texas in a newsroom where not a soul uttered a bad word. It just didn’t happen. Generally, it was the news director’s secretary who objected if she heard such language. But overall, it was just not considered very professional, and this was, at that time, a truly distinguished shop, head and shoulders above most TV news.
I’m no prude and not religious, but frankly, I found that profanity-free approach refreshing. With concentrated effort I purged my vocabulary.
No newsroom will ever be sanitized. But I admire the ones that scrub up a bit.
nancy said on August 10, 2006 at 7:54 am
One key difference in those newsrooms, Vince: They were broadcast venues. It’s always wise to curb your tongue anyplace there might be an live, open mic. At MPR they had signs here and there reminding people of that, which I thought was smart. In TV, at least the lights tip you off. In radio, anyone could be live, or at least recording, at any moment.
Newspaper newsrooms remain palaces of filth, and while Bob is right — many use profanity because they simply don’t have other vocabulary — occasionally you find a crusty old dinosaur who can swear the way Shakespeare wrote sonnets, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Dorothy said on August 10, 2006 at 8:34 am
Okay I’m a little worried I’ve told this story about profanity before so forgive me if I’m repeating myself. But I feel compelled to tell it again, just incase I never did here before.
My dad had a childhood friend named Bobby Brown. Used to swear terribly. The other kids were always astonished and never followed suit. He claimed his mother taught him to swear.
One day one of the kids my dad hung out with came across Mrs. Brown. He worked up the nerve to ask her if it was true that Bobby learned to swear from her. Mrs. Brown replied “He’s a god-damned liar!”
The way he told it always slayed us! Crossing my fingers the rest of you find this humerous.
Kirk said on August 10, 2006 at 8:48 am
in the world of baseball, swearing is an art form. there are numerous tapes of famous tirades floating around. this is one of them, a rant by ex-cubs manager lee elia, i think early in the ’84 season when the cubs were going bad (they turned it around and made the playoffs that year). it shouldn’t take too much imagination to figure out what the bleeps are. when i attended the playoffs at wrigley field that year, i saw a guy wearing a hat that said, “kiss my elia”
“We got all these so-called bleeping fans that come out here, Cub fans that are supposed to be behind you, ripping every bleeping thing you bleeping do.
“It’s sickening. It’s unbelievable. It really is. It’s a disheartening bleeping situation we’re in right now.
“Eighty-five percent of the bleeping world’s working and the other 15 come out here. (It’s a) bleeping playground for the mothers. RIP THEM BLEEP-BLEEPERS! Rip them country bleep-bleepers like (they do) the players!
“Because if they’re the real Chicago bleeping fans, they can kiss my bleeping ass right downtown and — PRINT IT! — They’re really, really, behind you around here. My bleeping ass.”
wade said on August 10, 2006 at 11:51 am
Nance, clue me in on the columnist, too… I have no recollection of a Postie fitting that description (although that was the ’70s, which seems like a good excuse.)
Tori Daugherty said on August 12, 2006 at 1:37 pm
Hey, this is Tori Daugherty from the Pottymouths Column. Read the article and the interesting comments. Here is my point that has been lost between countless discussions on Internet sites. My journalism teacher presented the profanities as an absolute tool of journalists. My research showed that the use of the “f word” is voluntary and not as pervasive as the teacher says. My goal with The Post was to find out if their newsroom truly cussed as frequently as the movie portrayed. I also wondered if Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward would undo their previous adjectives given the opportunity.
Will I ever cuss? Maybe, but I also can find words more explanatory than #$&*’s.
mary said on August 12, 2006 at 8:36 pm
I admire your forthrightness in coming forward and asking these questions. What I think bothers me about your concerns with “bad” language being used by Woodward and Bernstein is your focus on that part of the picture. They were exposing the highest levels of our government as criminals. The more they learned, the more incredible and frightening the story became. If they were frustrated and outraged and worried about their own safety, they had every right in the world to say fuck. Our president had an advisor, G. Gordon Liddy, who offered to kill people for the president, people who disagreed or criticized the president. I find that much more troubling than some Anglo Saxonisms. At least Woodward and Bernstein didn’t portray themselves as devout, honest, clean family men like Nixon did, and certainly G. Gordon Liddy did. I’ll take someone who swears over a hypocrite any time.
I don’t swear in front of my kids, never have. I tell them that swear words are only words, but they upset some people and it’s not polite or considerate to upset people. I’m much more of a language nazi when it comes to words like “retard” or racial epithets. Those are words with power, and those are worth writing a newspaper about.
Tori Daugherty said on August 13, 2006 at 11:40 am
Have you seen the original article published by the News-Sentinel? It can be found at . In the second paragraph I do say that the topic was necessary (being that the Watergate Scandal is the best case of investigative journalism and must be studied by students). However, the characters were f-ing and GD-ing up the place long before they even began to think that they had anything more interesting than the typical inner page story.
My question is: What is the use of the f-word in saying, “Wow, we’ve got some loser politicians running our government”? I am positively sure that that is not the dictionary definition of GD and f###. Carl Bernstein’s and Bob Woodward’s occupations were to write. Their job was to find exciting descriptions for the day-to-day droll stories. Given this once-in-a-century story, should they not have been able to express themselves in a cleaner manner? Should Hollywood have reworded some of their modifiers for this PG movie? Should the teacher have taken the initiative to say, “Don’t use those words”?
I have noticed that Nancy Nall’s, previous writer for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, article did not contain my original email inquiry. Here it is:
“Last year our journalism teacher showed us the movie ‘All the President’s Men.’ This teacher states that journalists all speak with lots of profanities as shown in the movie. I would appreciate some insight into this scenario from your point of view. I have wondered if it was a guys-only thing or perhaps a decade in time when people spoke with more abandon and less courtesy. I hope that this is not some sort of a prerequisite for joining the journalism field.” [The Post’s article can be viewed at ].
Many professionals, including doctors, military, and others under high pressure, with lives at stake do not drop the F-bomb. Go ahead, Ms Mary, use whatever language suits you. I never asked you to stop. Just, don’t ask me to lower myself or to begin appreciating your choice in adjectives and adverbs.
The thoughts of a fifteen year old, Midwest gal. Happy First Amendment. Welcome to the democracy.
brian stouder said on August 13, 2006 at 4:03 pm
Danny said on August 14, 2006 at 11:01 am
Tori, very well put.
mary said on August 14, 2006 at 4:10 pm
I think if you are going to live your life being offended by those words and judging people who use them, you will miss a great deal. Journalists swear, as do people in pretty much every job in the world. Not all journalists swear, and it has nothing to do with being a journalist. I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences in my life. I’ve been very lucky. Some of the really great interesting times did involve bad words, Tori, and some of the really rotten times involved people who would never think of uttering a swear word. Curses are only words arbitrarily given some power other words don’t have. If they offend you, sorry, but don’t limit yourself to a world where they don’t exist. You’ll miss a lot.