The release Friday of a 2005 videotape of Donald Trump making vulgar comments about women tested The Times’ language standards and its print production deadlines.
In comments caught by an open microphone, Trump refers in crude terms to groping women and pursuing sex with a married acquaintance. The Washington Post broke the story Friday afternoon.
The Times followed soon after with an article posted on latimes.com. That story and a version published in Saturday’s newspaper conveyed the gist of Trump’s comments, but avoided repeating his most offensive language. Some readers criticized that decision.
Friday’s online story, however, was accompanied by the unaltered videotape — so any reader who wanted to hear Trump’s full remarks could do so. The opening screen of the video warning readers that it contained explicit language.
Obscene language offends the prevailing notions of modesty or decency.
The Times’ style and usage guide cautions against using obscenities or vulgarities, noting, “Obscene language offends the prevailing notions of modesty or decency.” As readers often remind us, we’re a family newspaper.
However, there are times when such language is deemed newsworthy enough to warrant an exception. On Friday night, editors decided that, in the context of the presidential campaign, it was important to publish Trump’s explicit remarks.
Both transcripts were also published in Sunday’s print newspaper (because of early deadlines, they could not be included in Saturday’s paper).
“We don’t lightly use obscenities in the paper or on our website,” Managing Editor Marc Duvoisin said. “Readers rely on us to make judgments about when it’s necessary to subject them to offensive language, and usually it isn’t. This is a case where it was necessary. That became clearer as the night wore on and the video grew into a crisis for Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party.”
In its article on the video, the Washington Post used dashes — f--- and p---- — in place of the actual words. The New York Times spelled them out fully. The Wall Street Journal used the word “pussy” in a quote but not the F-word.
In the transcript published in the Los Angeles Times, Trump says: “I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married.” It was the first time The Times had published the F-word in print since 1998. That time, the expletive appeared in an excerpt from the Starr Report, an investigation of then-President Bill Clinton by independent counsel Kenneth Starr. The Times’ internal archive shows only three uses of the word in the print newspaper — including Sunday’s — since 1985.
The Los Angeles Times made a different decision after a 2010 open-microphone moment, when Vice President Joe Biden was heard using the F-word to tell President Obama what a big deal it was to sign the Affordable Care Act. In its print story, The Times quoted Biden as saying it was a “big … deal.”
Another concern expressed by readers about Saturday’s story on the Trump recording was its placement in the print edition — on Page A10, and not the front page. “THE ENTIRE WORLD BLEW UP OVER THIS STORY AND IT RUNS ON PAGE 10 OF THE LA TIMES,” one reader wrote in an all-caps email.
The recording was released Friday afternoon, a day when The Times has early news-section deadlines. Significant developments, including calls from GOP leaders for Trump to step down from the ticket and Trump’s own videotaped apology, occurred after the section went to press. The story and recording were prominently displayed on latimes.com Friday, and the story was updated through the night.
Sunday’s Times provided extensive coverage of the furor, including two front page articles, additional stories inside the paper and an editorial calling on Republican leaders to disavow their nominee.
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