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A family-friendly media lesson about the editing of foul language

 By Alan Pergament

Some of my readers apparently gave me a grade of F for a blog I wrote last week about Channel 7 mistakenly airing an expletive on the 11 p.m. news.

I thought I was being clever by writing that the bad word started with the sixth letter of the alphabet rather than spell out the letter.

Besides, I was trying to make readers work a little hard to find out which really bad word was used.

Reader response on the blog made it appear that I have a bunch of comedians for readers. It was pretty harsh. And pretty funny.

Before I explain my reasoning further, let me quote some of the comedians who responded. Their comments have been edited slightly because I don't want them to do what I didn't do and reveal the letter the word starts with.

Someone signing the remark with the name of Cannibal King (I am not making this up) wrote: "I wish they would have clarified which alphabet, because at first I thought it could have been 'zeta.' How ridiculous. We need a real newspaper..."

Terrier 1 wrote: "Starts with the 6th letter of the alphabet. Funniest Line of the day!!!!!"

Gene Herzog, who I think was brave enough to use his actual name, wrote "Only the Buffalo Snooze! 6th letter of the alphabet, please, what are we, in kindergarten?"

Jim Bennett, who also appeared to use his real name, wrote: "Who cares? This is news? Also, how many people reading this immediately used their fingers to go: A-B-C-D? I'll bet almost everyone. Hilarious."

Pat Liddell, another brave reader, wrote "the expletive, which starts with the sixth letter of the alphabet. Who's the target audience for this drivel -- people who count on their fingers?"

Funny stuff.

I understand the criticism. I don't totally agree with it. But I understand it.

I remember being at a press conference in Los Angeles in 1990 with other television critics when we spent 30 minutes or more debating whether a young kid could open the TV version of "Uncle Buck" starring Kevin Meaney with a word that kids usually say when they mean "you stink."

The word rhymes with the word that starts with the sixth letter of the alphabet. I don't want to tell you which letter it starts with because it is too far down the alphabet. The American alphabet.

After the debate ended, my memory is CBS aired the line anyway without incident.

Laugh if you must, but I still suspect that using the word would be frowned upon by my editors even though TV routinely uses it now -- and uses much worse.

In a day in which the coarsening of the nation and the world is on display daily, what's so wrong with there being one place -- a newspaper -- that still considers itself family friendly?

I'm a former sportswriter. I have heard the word that Channel 7 used often. Heck, my kids taught me years ago that I'm a bit of a hypocrite.

I don't curse very often. Honest. I tried to teach my three children to avoid using bad words when they were very young, too.

When my oldest boy was around 10 years old or so, he heard me on the telephone talking to a friend while I thought he was sleeping. We were talking sports. I went a little locker room during the conversation, as guys often do when they are talking about the ineptitude of the Bills or Sabres.

The next morning my son said something like, "dad I heard you using words that you've told me to not to use."

He had me. I was a hypocrite. I tried to wiggle out by saying when you are older you learn when you can use those words and when it is absolutely inappropriate.

It was a weak defense. But it is the only one I had.

Sure, the word is tossed around more easily these days than it ever has been. You can routinely walk down a street in Buffalo or New York City and hear the word.

That doesn't make it right. It isn't appropriate to say it within earshot of people you don't know.

And my editors have taught me that it is never appropriate to use even mild expletives or even words with double meaning in a newspaper.

I don't see anything wrong with making readers work a little harder to understand which expletive was used on the air.

So laugh at me if you must, call me a kindergarten teacher. (That's probably an insult to kindergarten teachers).

Or you can be adult about it.





Television | TV news
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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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