The New York Times said Vice President Cheney had used "an obscenity" against Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The Los Angeles Times had Cheney saying "Go . . . yourself." CNN said Cheney used "the F-word."

But The Washington Post printed the word yesterday for the first time since publishing the Kenneth Starr report in 1998. And that set the town buzzing.

"When the vice president of the United States says it to a senator in the way in which he said it on the Senate floor," says Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., "readers need to judge for themselves what the word is because we don't play games at The Washington Post and use dashes."

At the same time, the article recalled that in 2000 then-candidate George Bush made an off-mike comment about Adam Clymer, then a New York Times reporter, calling him a "major-league [expletive]," to which Cheney responded, "Big time." Downie said the paper used the vulgar term for an orifice at the time and he saw no reason to repeat it in yesterday's newspaper.

The Post did not report when John Kerry used the F-word in a Rolling Stone interview, saying he did not "expect George Bush to [expletive] it up as badly as he did." Downie said there was no need to report that language, given that the culture magazine is a very different publication from The Post.

The only other times the word appeared in The Post was in a 1992 story about a death row inmate and in a 1987 profile of former White House spokesman Jim Brady, according to a database search.

A few dozen readers have called to complain, some saying the word was inappropriate in a family newspaper read by children. "How utterly sad for your fine paper," a Springfield man said in an e-mail.

Others saw signs of political bias. "If Leahy had used the profanity when speaking to Cheney, you guys wouldn't even have bothered to print it," a Colorado woman wrote.

But an Arlington woman wrote: "Anyone who is old enough to have an interest in reading the newspaper has presumably heard the word and is aware of its meaning."