On horseshit, and the New York Times

I’m quoted in an article in today’s New York Times about how the strike has affected relationships between writers and executives. More accurately, the blog is quoted; I didn’t speak to the writer.

“In November, John August, the writer of movies like “Charlie’s Angeles” [sic] and “Corpse Bride,” spied Peter Roth, president of Warner Brothers Television, at Osteria Mozza, a Los Angeles restaurant. “When you see someone you kind of know at a restaurant, it’s always a process to figure out whether or not to say hi,” Mr. August wrote on his blog. “But the strike makes that decision process much more complicated.”

Instead of confronting the studio executive, Mr. August returned home and wrote a vulgar blog entry about what he would have liked to say. One part of it that is printable here said: “Everyone knows the C.E.O.’s are talking out of two sides of their mouths.”

Really? What vulgar thing did I write about Peter Roth? I only remembered an insider reference to how Peter Roth tends to hug people. (He does.)

Let’s look back at the original post from November 15th, and my imagined conversation:

  • ME
  • Hey Peter. John August.
  • John. John August! How are you? This strike, huh? Crazy. I can’t wait for this to be over.
  • ME
  • Then tell your side to come back to the table with an internet residual plan that isn’t horseshit, and you could be shooting pilots by February. Because I’ve been on the picket line for seven days, and every writer wants to come back to work. But not a single one of them would take that shitty deal. Because everyone knows what’s at stake, and everyone knows the CEO’s are talking out of two sides of their mouths.

Obviously, the word in question is “horseshit.” I immediately did a web search of the New York Times website to find all the other instances in which they used “horseshit” in a quote, and found exactly zero results. They really don’t print the word.1

Honestly, I find it charming that they deem certain common words too coarse for their readers. They also insist on using polite forms such as “Mr. Smith,” even when it creates more confusion. It’s their newspaper, and they’re entitled to their quirks.2

So it seems that the writer of the article was following Times policy in not printing the full, horseshit-inclusive quote. I can’t object to that.

But what I can object to is labeling my original statement vulgar. That’s a pretty condemnatory remark to slip into a light news piece, considering the word in question is barely PG-13. “Horseshit” may not be an approved word for the New York Times, but it’s a stretch to claim that the mythical New York Times reader would consider it vulgar. It’s basic cable at this point.

Worse, by omitting what I actually said, the article creates the implication I said something much worse. Something — gulp! — unprintably awful. Which I didn’t. I said that the AMPTP’s offer on the table was horseshit. Which it was.

  1. They will use “shit” on occasion, such as when the president was quoted as saying, “What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it’s over.”
  2. I’m also a fan of Technology Review’s predilection for the diaeresis, such as coöperate.

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