Politico The Prude

Politico reports that John Stewart has been criticising the Democratic legislators and mayors who have been bullying and threatening Chick-fil-A over the position on gay marriage taken by that company’s CEO, mocking them on The Daily Show:

Comedian Jon Stewart ripped Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino on Thursday night for pledging to block Chick-fil-A from opening new restaurants in their cities, siding with those on the right who say such a move would be unconstitutional.

“Pretty sure you can’t outlaw a company with perfectly legal business practices because you find their CEO’s views repellant. Not sure which amendment covers that, but it’s probably in the top one,” Stewart said. “I think maybe the mayors hadn’t thought this thing through.”

Very true. I have already written about the hypocrisy and illiberalism of those people who, like Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino, want to punish individuals or groups not for their actions but their beliefs.

Unfortunately, we then get this:

Stewart mocked the chicken chain’s supporters, too, using sexual innuendo in a joke about “the million mouth march.”

“And what better way to stand up and say, ‘I oppose gay people’s rights to get married,’ than to head down to a Chick-fil-A, grab a hold of two buttery buns, split down and gobble down some of that hot, greasy…” Stewart said before saying a certain synonym for chicken that also refers to the male anatomy.

I think the word they are grasping for is “cock”. That’s C-O-C-K.

Could you find a more tortured way of not to say “cock” than to write “a certain synonym for chicken that also refers to the male anatomy”?

And “the male anatomy”? Is even the word “penis” out of bounds these days?

It irritates me when news organisations refuse to use certain words when they are central to the story or quote under discussion. Sometimes this is due to tortured political correctness or oversensitivity – if there is a story about racism, for example, we will hear lots about the offender uttering “the N-word”, for example. Sometimes it is due to squeamishness or prudishness, such as talking about someone who lets “the F-word” slip. And sometimes it is due to willful ignorance, such as when the New York Times refers to waterboarding as “torture” when it is carried out by a foreign country, but “enhanced interrogation” when committed by the United States.

In this case, it doesn’t really matter. The article is a light-hearted piece about a parody news show. At other times and with other stories it does matter though, and failing to report a quote accurately, or use the correct term, can have damaging or insidious consequences.

The only time that offensive words have the power to harm is when they are put on a pedestal and only referred to in roundabout, opaque ways. News organisations and journalists make themselves look silly when they falsely ascribe such power to a harmless arrangement of letters.