The New York Times quoted the first line of Jonathan Lethem’s “Dissident Gardens” in its fashion magazine T this weekend:
“Quit fucking black cops or get booted from the Communist party. There stood the ultimatum, the absurd sum total of the message conveyed to Rose Zimmer by the cabal gathered in her Sunnyside Gardens kitchen that evening.”
Here is a photo I took of the quote:
“If I’d had the foresight to make it one of my life’s aspirations, I’d have done so. Instead it lands as dumb luck. My U.K. friend Dan Fox pointed out that it puts me with John Cleese, the first person to say ‘shit’ on the BBC.”
The Times has gone to great lengths to avoid printing references to the word “fuck” before, and once decided not to name the blog STFU, Parents, Miller writes. But the Times has occasionally printed vulgarities when its editors felt they had news value:
The argument that someone’s use of a vulgar expression was surprising or politically dramatic, or revealing about art or the intensity of feelings, will not be compelling. Exceptions have been made only a handful of times, and they typify the standard. In 1974 The Times published transcripts of White House conversations that figured in the Watergate scandal. Expressions highly objectionable by Times standards were printed because of the light they shed on a historic matter, the possibility of a presidential impeachment. The paper’s top editors judged that in this situation, it was not enough to say merely that an obscenity or a vulgarism had been used. In 1991, the fate of a Supreme Court appointment rested on whether the Senate would believe a complaint of sexual harassment against the nominee. The nationally televised accusation centered on coarse slang, which The Times printed in its articles and hearing transcripts. In 1998 the newspaper retained explicit sexual descriptions and slang in the texts of documents submitted to Congress by an independent counsel recommending impeachment action against President Clinton. . . .
Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy writes: “A quick search through the paper’s archives reveals dozens of instances of f-bombs casually inserted in fiction excerpts.” One example, from 2003:
“He might even be truly sick, fucked up, in pain, who knew? Your only option was to say dang, white boy, what’s your problem? I didn’t even touch you. And move on.” A few paragraphs later: “Play that fucking music, white boy! Stretching the last two words to a groaning, derisive, Bugs-Bunnyesque whyyyyyyyboy!”
The author? Jonathan Lethem.
And even though this is not really the same thing and unfair to someone with a perfectly fine German name, the paper quoted a person named Ralf Fücks in June.