Media Critic Covers 'PC' and Obscenity

By Astor, David | Editor & Publisher, December 10, 1994 | Go to article overview

Media Critic Covers 'PC' and Obscenity


Astor, David, Editor & Publisher


THE LAST TWO speakers at the recent American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors (AASFE) convention gave the Seattle audience a double dose of "PC" talk.

One of the speakers was Microsoft founder and soon-to-be New York Times Syndicate columnist Bill Gates, who discussed the personal computer revolution (E&P, Oct. 22, p. 40).

The other was Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw, who focused on political correctness and obscenity.

Shaw said obscene words should appear in newspapers when they make a story more informative and understandable for readers.

"Newspapers are supposed to be in the business of communicating," noted the Pulitzer Prize winner, whose articles are distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service.

Shaw said, for instance, that newspapers should have printed the lyrics of 2 Live Crew in stories about the rap group's controversial album.

Three years ago, Shaw did a story about obscenity for the Times. He recalled that the paper hamstrung his efforts by refusing to let him use any obscene words in the piece.

The AASFE speaker did emphasize that he is against gratuitous printing of obscene and racist words as well as loaded phrases such as "avowed homosexual" and "dark continent."

Shaw also said that he is against the use of euphemisms. He noted that someone with AIDS is indeed an AIDS victim.

"Deaf' is necessary," added the journalist. "If you say someone can't hear, it could mean they can't hear because someone is whispering or a door is closed. We have an obligation to be precise."

Shaw mentioned that the term "people of color" is not precise because "whites with a suntan can be darker than blacks."

Speaking of nonwhites, Shaw said that "newspapers still devote too much space to the pathologies of minority life, rather than the normal aspects of minority life. But that's changing, especially at the better papers."

Panelists at another AASFE session -- "What the Mainstream Press Can Learn from the Minority Press" -- agreed that there has been some improvement in multicultural coverage but said many dailies still focus too much on negative news.

"There's no balance," said Hermene Hartman, publisher of the N'Digo "magapaper" in Chicago. "Blacks are portrayed as less intelligent than we are and more violent than we are."

Hartman added that mainstream press coverage of successful blacks focuses disproportionately on athletes and entertainers.

"People of color need to be shown as everyday people -- including doctors, lawyers and bankers," said another panelist, Melissa Campobasso, who was formerly with Indian Country Today and the Associated Press.

Hartman also decried the "holiday syndrome" of the mainstream press, which might run Black History Month stories but gives short shrift to African-Americans in its general coverage the rest of the year. …

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Media Critic Covers 'PC' and Obscenity
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