Monday, November 20, 2006

To Bleep or Not to Bleep

I was watching TV this morning when the news came across the screen: "Actor Michael Richards stuns comedy club by using racial epithets."

The story had been broken on, an entertainment Web site that had posted the video of Richard's tirade. CNN played a portion of the video, unedited, after a short disclaimer warning viewers of the potentially offensive language that it contained.

During the 2:47 minute clip, Richards cursed and screamed "the n-word" at least seven times to a group of African American hecklers. Richards also used a series of profanities and made reference to lynchings, during his tirade, noting something to the effect that 50 years ago, the hecklers would have been hanging upside down from a tree.

The news is making its way around the Internet and other journalistic outlets:
TMZ is continuing to play the video unedited.
Apparently AP has transcripts of the performance.
Only a handful of media outlets are sanitizing the comments - instead noting that Richards used the "n-word."

Question is, who is right?

The FCC recently reversed a ruling that subjected media outlets to fines for using profanity. It recently ruled that some profanity during a news show is acceptable. Meanwhile, longstanding rules of decency say that profanity, epithets and slurs are wrong and should not be re-aired so as not to continue to offend readers and/or viewers.

My thoughts? I think CNN did the right thing by playing the tapes unedited. By allowing viewers to see the actual context in which the words were said, it allows us to draw our own conclusion. From watching the tape, I don't believe Richards' was drunk, like Mel Gibson, and that his comments were meant to shock and appall. In that case, he succeeded.

I wasn't offended. I felt sorry that Richards felt he needed to resort to hurling slurs to save his act. (By the way, he was allowed to perform at the same club the following night.)

But I'm not everyone, and therein lies the dilemma.

Is it our job as journalists to not offend viewers or readers? Or is it our job to broadcast or write about incidents as they occured, without sanitizing them?

Posted by T Dot at 5:29 PM | link

Read or Post a Comment

Great thoughts! Please keep writing!

Posted by Blogger such is life @ 9:29 PM, November 20, 2006 #

I agree with you that journalists need not just provide content, but also context. You're absolutely right when you say that the viewer, listener, or reader should be able to reach their own conclusion. By giving people the option to turn away, you give them the power to decide what is too much for him or her. The objective is to inform, and I don't think a service is done with just half the story.

Posted by Anonymous CNEL @ 11:02 PM, November 20, 2006 #

I have to agree; I think if one starts sheltering the readership, the readership is going to start acting sheltered, which is never a good thing. Now, the way that you present the information can be tasteful, and that's sort of where you have the control.

Posted by Anonymous jenn @ 11:42 AM, November 21, 2006 #
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