Thursday, March 22, 2012

Censor-y Overload

I'll make this quick because, as you can probably tell by the lack of output here over the past couple of days, I'm still pretty busy at the moment.

Bravo to CNN.

No, really.

Earlier today, investigative correspondent Drew Griffin -- who's an old friend of mine, going back to our time together at KCBS here in Los Angeles in the 90s -- was having a conversation on-air about a horrific hate crimes case in Mississippi when he said the word "nigger," unbleeped. The case involves a guilty plea entered by three young white men who purposely beat up then ran down a black man in June of last year. Drew was talking about the sickening facts of the case and quoted one of the killers, 19-year-old Deryl Dedmon, as having thrown out a racial slur while admitting to the crime not long after the attack.

Drew's exact words: "Deryl Dedmond backs up and gets a good aim and just plows him over on the way out. To be absolutely factual, at the end of this, Deryl Dedmond is laughing with his friends and actually called on his cell phone and, pardon my language but there's no other way to say this, and said, 'I just ran over that f'ing nigger'"

While it's unfortunate that he even felt that he had to edit out the word "fucking," thereby also diminishing the awful heft of what came out of Dedmon's mouth on that night, it's good that he was willing to at least not cop out and "protect" the audience from a little bit of much-needed shock when it came to the epithet that was used. It should go without saying that Drew was reporting a story and had every right to deliver that story without resorting to childish -- yet inexplicably widely tolerated and even expected -- euphemisms.

Years ago, in response to the reporting on Michael Richards's now infamous rant, I said this about our PC-beholden culture's unwillingness to utter the word "nigger" in any context:

"Despite whatever heft, whatever power to destroy or dehumanize, that we've unwisely granted a single word -- any word -- in the end it is still just a word, and nothing more.

Except that in the most advanced and preeminent culture to ever exist upon this Earth, in the early days of the 21st century, it isn't just a word. On the contrary, the word 'nigger' holds an unparalleled level of ascendancy in our society. There's no better testament to the truth of this statement than the fact that otherwise educated, intelligent people -- the type who normally would rather step on a live land mine than be taken for an idiot -- will gladly allow themselves to be reduced to spouting the vernacular of a four-year-old to avoid speaking it.

No matter the alternative's power to offend and instigate, is there anything -- anything -- more painfully ridiculous than a grown man or woman saying, 'The N-word?' It's an absurd verbal tip-toe that not only proves that there is apparently no safe context in which the actual word can be uttered, but also that there exists an unspoken implication that those whom one would expect to be angered by the use of such a word are so stupid that they can't discern between the desire to dehumanize and subjugate and the need to openly discuss, and therefore should be protected from hearing the word altogether -- for the good of everyone. This latter possibility -- an indictment of an entire culture, whether out of condescension or outright fear -- is infinitely more offensive than the utterance of any one word."

So as much as this shouldn't be a big deal -- that a person reporting a news story on a guy who uttered a vicious racial slur actually says that slur and doesn't sugar-coat reality -- it is actually a very big deal.

By the way, this follows a debate over the Zimmerman 911 tape on Anderson Cooper 360 last night in which CNN actually did allow the word "fucking" -- said by Zimmerman -- to be aired uncut with the knowledge that bleeping it would prevent viewers from making up their own minds about what he said immediately after that word.

That's two for CNN.


CNNfan said...

Using the "and" word five times on the air ... "and" ..."and" ..."and" ..."and" ..."and", before deciding to broadcast something, may be a good indication you are about to slip.

Anonymous said...

Your so right. When I watched the clip just now the first thing I though was really? This is being talked about? My god he was quoting big fucking woop.

ntx said...

Even when quoting, you have no idea how twisted into knots this makes some muckety-mucks. My editorial director finally came down on the no side of "nigger," reasoning that he would rather not deal with the one person who vehemently objected than bask in the silent thanks of thousands of readers grateful for a clearly told story.

Alex Barreto said...

For some reason while ready this post, I was thinking about the trailblazing 1990s rap group "N-Words With Attitude."