(%*/!! Why Can’t The Times Print <i> All</i> the News?

<i> Bolte is a Los Angeles writer. </i>

Steve Weinstein’s Nov. 15 article, “Against the (Bleep) Law,” made me dizzy with hypocrisy overdose. Here is The Times, which will not allow “obscene” language to soil its own pages, printing a sympathetic article about an episode of the TV dramatic series “Against the Law” in which such words were bleeped out, in seeming contradiction to the program’s free-speech message.

Add to this the pitiful defense of the bleeps by Peter Chernin, president of the Fox Entertainment Group. Chernin argued that the bleeps were justified because programmers must be sensitive to “community standards”; the “Against the Law” episode, he said, was advocating free-speech rights “among adults who pay” to listen in a nightclub. You can have free speech only if you pay for it?

Under this argument, The Times--which I pay for--should grant its writers the freedom to use any words they want and to report exactly what others said.

The Times justifies its brand of self-censorship because it comes into homes as a family newspaper. After all, the kids, whose Vulgate is already abundantly punctuated with the “f” word, might read something in The Times that their parents, who speak about the same language, didn’t authorize.


If The Times wishes to deal with these issues without the charge of hypocrisy arising, I think it should start printing “dirty” words when they are factual or appropriate to the feeling a writer is expressing.

Such a policy at all newspapers might just revive fading readership. Think what a First Amendment issue it would make, and what a stimulus to circulation it would be, if The Times were to lead this movement and a few of its vending machines were torched by the Word Police!

I guess, like war, freedom of expression is great if it’s on someone else’s turf--and far away from advertisers and financial interests.

Now that The Times is Los Angeles’ only metropolitan daily, it should feel a duty not only to criticize others for their narrowness but also to give voice to the very broad range of expression and ideas present in the area.

Prudish censorship, while condemnable, is more understandable on TV--which reaches into the country’s most isolated areas and needs government licenses--than in a newspaper serving a region praised so often in The Times itself as the wave of the future.

A steady stream of taboo words as a substitute for content is a bore. So often, though, we are stirred to prevent these utterances only when they are spoken by members of the wrong group or when they challenge the Establishment.

To use a vulgar, non-taboo, expression, The Times should put up or shut up. Otherwise, it really sucks. Do I have to add “eggs” like they do on TV?

The policy of The Times regarding the use of obscene, profane and vulgar language is spelled out by the Los Angeles Times Style Book, which governs all writing contained in the newspaper. In essence, questionable words or phrases are not to be used “casually, gratuitously or merely for shock effect” and their use in the paper is primarily a matter of taste, judgment and awareness by writers and editors. There must be a clear or compelling reason for their use, and they should be a significant part of the news involved.