Editorial: In defense of publishing ‘shithole’

The CNN app sent this push notification, with "shithole" included, to Android devices Jan. 11.


Last Thursday a member of our team, like many Ichabods, was enjoying their last real day of their winter break. While stuck inside from an ice storm in the morning, they were relaxing on the couch, eating an afternoon snack with CNN airing in the background. Glancing up for a moment they noticed a quote from President Donald Trump, with a single word in it censored, put up on the screen. The quote piqued their interest and the team member had full attention on the broadcast, which was being anchored by Jake Tapper. In the seconds that followed, Tapper began reading the now infamous quote without refrain, in full and uncensored.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Tapper said, repeating the quote from the president, reported originally by The Washington Post.

This moment in television shocked us and many others around the country. You just don’t hear “shithole” on TV, especially the news, everyday. Soon after, other news networks began using “shithole,” uncensored in their reporting of the quote. In the next hour, people received notifications on their phones from news apps such as AP, NPR and CNN. All of the notifications included the uncensored word “shithole.” It was simply astounding.

The quote in question was reportedly said by Trump during a meeting at the White House while discussing immigration issues with a bipartisan group of members from the U.S. Congress. While discussing the countries of El Salvador, Haiti and countries in Africa, the president asked this question and then followed it up by suggesting that we should have more immigrants from nations such as Norway, whose prime minister visited the day before.

Trump himself denied using the language on Twitter the following morning, however the White House has yet to officially deny the president’s use of the word in question.

News organizations rarely use profanity when publishing or broadcasting the news. At the Washburn Review, we use The Associated Press Stylebook as our reference and guide for covering news. While most large, national organizations have their own unique style guide, AP style is widely accepted as an industry standard. In the latest edition of the stylebook, the beginning of the “obscenities, profanities, vulgarities” entry states the following:

“Do not use [profanities] in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.”

Not only does the use of the word “shithole,” in this instance, adhere to the standard set by this particular entry, it is dishonest to not include the full quote, “shithole” and all, while reporting this story. “Shit” is a word to not take lightly, and a word the media rarely, if ever, uses. However, when the president of the United States uses such a word to describe countries and even entire continents, it is something so newsworthy, it must be reported in full and must not be sidestepped. As journalists, we must report the news in the best and most accurate way possible. Censorship of the word “shithole” is censorship of the news itself, and journalism should never be in the business of censoring the news.