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August 5, 2005

On Bullshit

One of the best ways to compare media outlets is to look at the way that they handle the same nugget of news. It's not normally as black-and-white as, say, Fox News displaying a picture of a flip-flop sandal onscreen while the talking heads discussed John Kerry's voting record. Usually, it's about maintaining the tone of the publication, all the way down to the style guide. So when Bob Novak blew up at frequent sparring partner James Carville and host Ed Henry on CNN's Inside Politics show (it's still unclear why), Gelf saw it as an opportunity to share with our readers how different publications deal with profanity.

After all, when Dick Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy to "go fuck yourself," the Washington Times reported it thusly: "According to the aide, Mr. Cheney then responded with a barnyard epithet, urging Mr. Leahy to perform an anatomical sexual impossibility." (See this New Yorker piece for a follow up.) Here's how some major news outlets dealt with the latest newsworthy profanity:

Los Angeles Times
Novak replied: "Well, I think that's [expletive]. And I hate that. Just let it go." The profanity was clearly audible.

Associated Press
"Well, I think that's bull---- and I hate that," Novak replied. "Just let it go." As moderator Henry stepped in to ask Carville a question, Novak walked off the set.

Novak, shown on the screen sitting next to Carville, waved his right hand and replied: "I think that's bull----, and I hate that. Just let it go." While Henry addressed another question to Carville, Novak stood up, walked off the set behind Carville—fully visible to viewers—and apparently pulled off his microphone.

Knight Ridder
Complaining that Carville was rude and hostile, Novak uttered a barnyard epithet and made his move.

New York Times
Mr. Novak responded with a profanity, before telling Mr. Carville: "I hate that. Just let it go." He stood up, removed his microphone and walked off.

Chicago Tribune
But he responded to ribbing from fellow commentator James Carville with an eight-letter barnyard epithet and walked off the live mid-afternoon program before Henry could get to that subject.

That's when the fireworks went off. "Well, I think that's bullshit and I hate that," Novak replied. "Just let it go." As Henry turned to ask Carville a follow-up question, Novak stood up, removed his microphone and walked off the set. Carville and Henry continued their back-and-forth as if nothing happened.

Over at the TPMCafe, Josh Marshall talked with Carville to try to figure out what happened to set Novak off. Carville suggests that Novak's real reason for his outburst had to do with upcoming questioning about Novak's role in the Valerie Plame affair (Wikipedia), leading Marshall to posit:

All that together makes me think that the real money quote isn't the barnyard epithet that sent Novak to the CNN penalty box, but the "Just let it go!" he barked at Ed Henry as he started to bolt the stage.

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