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The briefly indecent Boston Globe

Freedom watch
March 19, 2008 5:06:46 PM

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“Freedom Watch” this past week criticized newspapers, which are not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, for not printing expletives, even when the naughty words are central to the stories being reported. It was therefore startling to see the Boston Globe’s online edition publish a Reuters wire-service article on Monday, March 17, containing the words “fuck” and “shit.” That article, on the Supreme Court’s decision to review the constitutionality of FCC rules banning “fleeting expletives” (unexpected utterances on live broadcasts that make it past the bleepers), used the words at issue in the court case, even though previous Globe stories had not.

For a fleeting moment, it appeared as if the Globe style guru had read our past week’s column, “Newspapers Censor Bono’s ‘Fucking’ Gaffe,” and changed the paper’s policy. Perhaps the Globe realized that reporting the actual words when germane to the story serves the public interest. But Tuesday morning’s print edition proved that was not the case. Instead, the Reuters article was replaced with a Globe Wire Services story that referred to “expletives” and “profanity” without spelling out the four-letter words. By then the unexpurgated Reuters version was accessible only by digging deep into boston.com’s search function. Did the Globe have different policies for its online version and its print edition?

Martin Baron, the paper’s editor, told “Freedom Watch” that “We have the same standards, but apparently there was a lapse at boston.com. Even though our policy is not to your liking, your note serves as motivation to tighten procedures.”

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