The daily blasts from President Donald Trump still seem to throw much of the media off balance, this we know. But today the disorientation became much greater due to an extra helping of profanity, which led to this existential question: Is it best to censor the word “shithole” or lean into the R-rated version given who said it?
First, some context. Things had gotten testy in the Oval Office as negotiations over an immigration bill hit the rocks. According to an initial report in the Washington Post — which was soon proudly not denied by the White House — a frustrated Trump asked participants why the U.S. should welcome immigrants from “shithole countries” in the Caribbean and Africa. “What do we want Haitians here for?” the president wondered. “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from shithole countries?”
As an alternative, he helpfully suggested, we could bring people in from Norway (a nation fresh in mind since he had just met with its leaders earlier this week).
Early media treatment of the statement covered the gamut. CNN, after initially censoring its graphics, revised it to the uncut version (though hosts like Wolf Blitzer visibly blanched when reading from the script, opting for the PG route). NBC News likewise did not censor, at least on its website. ABC News, Fox News and CBS, meanwhile, used various versions of “sh*thole” or “s**thole” or even “S-hole.”
The New York Times, recalling its insistence on quoting Vice President Dick Cheney verbatim when he told Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy to “go fuck himself” on the floor of the Senate, used the word “shithole” for the very first time.
Social media told a different story. The only Trump mention in Facebook’s news feed of top stories was the president’s canard in saying he had sold Norway a plane that doesn’t actually exist. “Norway” also vaulted to the top of Twitter’s trending list.
As primetime headed toward latenight, the results were still split. Fox News kept with a bleeped chyron under an explanatory banner that read, “Trump’s Immigration Anger.” CNN, meanwhile, kept going the Full Monty.
The Daily Show feasted on the controversy, repeating the offending word numerous times, one that previously would likely have been bleeped.