No, the New York Times Didn’t Change Its “Fuck” Policy

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On Monday, Salon’s Laura Miller reported on an almost mythical creature—an actual F-bomb in the pages of the New York Times. According to Miller, the use of the word “fuck,” in an excerpt from Jonathan Lethem’s new novel Dissident Gardens, constituted the paper of record’s “first ever use of the word.” As she put it, “With the discretion of a well-bred debutante, the Times has just lost its F-bomb virginity, so to speak.” Lethem, reached for comment, told Miller he was “delighted.”

But it’s not the first time the paper has used “fuck” or one of its variants. The Times‘ anti-profanity editorial policy is, as Salon has chronicled before, often absurd, leading to the awkward censorship of band names, book titles, and, at least once, the vice president of the United States. But it only applies to nonfiction. A quick search through the paper’s archives reveals dozens of instances of F-bombs casually inserted in fiction excerpts. Most of the time those are online-only features that supplement print reviews, but occasionally the word makes its way into the paper itself. And in some extenuating circumstances, such as the publication of the 1998 Starr Report, the paper’s news desk has consented to publish the F-word as it appears in quotes.

And there’s this, which was excerpted in the September 21, 2003, edition of the Times: “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.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

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