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Thursday, December 1, 2005

Bullshit—It’s In the PI!

Posted by on December 1 at 11:53 AM

In this week’s Stranger I praise The Seattle Times for letting syndicated columnist Molly Ivins use the word “shit” in a recent column…

Daily papers are barely keeping their heads above water—in the past six months the Times’ circulation dropped seven percent, and the Post-Intelligencer’s fell nine percent—and the “family newspaper” anvil dailies insist on holding onto as they tread water isn’t helping. Shit, fuck, bullshit, asshole—these are all words that adults use for emphasis when they discuss politics, sex, religion, sports, dinner, spouses, pop culture, Pop-Tarts, and Wal-Marts. Daily papers and daily-paper websites are for adults, and adult language has a place in both. When a publication uses profanity in print, it communicates to its readers that they’re not being condescended to, or treated like children who have to be protected from language they use every fucking day…. Allowing writers to use the word “shit”—naturally, not gratuitously—in print screams, “This is not a publication that is written and edited under the bizarre, erroneous, suicidal assumption that adults sit around reading daily papers aloud to their children at bedtime.” As a fan of daily newspapers, I want to see them survive. So I hope the Seattle Times lets go of the “family newspaper” thing permanently. It’s an anvil, not a floatation device.

This morning Rodman, an alert Stranger reader, brought my attention to a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s business section today. “Another Seattle family paper prints “bullshit,’ā€¯ Rodman wrote. “they must have been reading this week’s Stranger.ā€¯

In a piece headlined “Costco challenges state’s oversight of wine sales,ā€¯ PI reporter Kristen Millares Bolt writes…

Costco Chief Executive Jim Sinegal said Costco brought the suit against the Washington State Liquor Control Board because Washington laws constitute a restraint of trade… The Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association… has long argued that removing government protection of profit margins and the distribution industry in Washington would limit consumer product choices.

When asked his response to that, Sinegal laughed.

“I can’t say bullshit, can I? That’s nonsense,” Sinegal said.

So is the PI loosening up? Are they letting go of the “family newspaperā€¯ anvil? Perhaps. But Holt’s use of “bullshitā€¯ in her piece is not as earthshaking a development as Ivins use of “shitā€¯ on the op-ed pages of the Seattle Times. Holt’s “bullshitā€¯ is embedded in a quote—Sinegal said it, he’s the one using adult language, not the reporter, and so not the paper. It’s less annoying than seeing “bull——ā€¯ in print, and perhaps it’s a signal that the PI is going to stop condescending to its readers. Unless it was accident, seeing “bullshitā€¯ in print make it clear that PI clearly believes the adults who read their business section don’t need to be protected from words that adults like Sinegal use every day. But they haven’t made the leap to allowing the adults who write and edit the PI to use words that adults use every day. The “bullshitā€¯ in today’s PI is, in a sense, being held with a pair of tongs. The true sign that the PI is taking my pro-profanity message to heart will be the appearance of the word “shitā€¯ in Susan Paynter’s column, or Melanie McFarland’s column, or Joel Connelly’s column, or John “Sexiest Daily Newspaper Columnist Aliveā€¯ Cook’s column—and not in quotes, but in the columnist’s all-grown-up voice.