Reader e-mail and phone calls to the ombudsman this week were dominated with responses to my Sunday column discussing when profanity is appropriate in a newspaper or on a Web site. See my Wednesday blog post for a summary of the reader input.
But there is news on this front too. After Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli met with the Style section staff this week, he opened the door a tiny bit to indications of profanity. From now on, Post writers and editors can use the dash (for example, in f--- or s---) to indicate a swear word in Post stories.
It won’t be used frequently, it will be “rare and judicious” and it will require approval of higher editors, but you will see it on occasion. Peter Perl, Post assistant managing editor for professional development and standards, said this was preferable to the practice of using “[expletive]” because that construction gives readers no indication of what level of profanity was uttered.
A change will be made to the Post style manual, along the lines of this: “The use of an initial letter with dashes or ellipses can be employed in rare instances with approval from a senior editor.” Final wording will come when the committee that reviews the stylebook next meets.
It may seem a small step, but it does make things clearer to editors, and after the more straitlaced approach of late, one waggish editor described it as “like swinging from Pat Buchanan to Pat Schroeder politically in one fell swoop.”
After profanity, the next thing on readers’s minds was the Occupy Wall Street protests and how The Post is covering them. This topic is of keen interest to readers, but the e-mails and calls are hard to categorize. Some support the protests, some are opposed, and both liberals and conservatives want more reporting on them, including about who the demonstrators are, who is funding and supporting them, what their message is, and why it is growing worldwide.
Conservative readers especially are upset that Occupy Wall Street protestors seem to be treated with kid gloves when their own Tea Party protests that launched in 2009 were not. For instance, why is Occupy Wall Street capitalized by The Post when “tea party” isn’t? ( I don’t know but I’ll find out.) Do the protesters have permits? If not, why not? How long will these encampments be allowed to stay?
Liberals, meanwhile, ask why The Post is focusing on arrests and violence instead of the largely peaceful, nonviolent nature of the protests in most cities.
I’ll be taking a closer look at Occupy Wall Street coverage in coming days.
No. 3 on this week’s hit parade was GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and a Post story about it that ran on Oct. 14. Post readers are curious about Cain’s plan and want to understand it more, but they were confused by the story and the accompanying graphic.
The graphic was based on a study of Cain’s 9-9-9 by Edward D. Kleinbard, former chief of staff for Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation who is now a law professor at the University of Southern California. The study is dense, and hard to follow unless you’re steeped in tax policy, but the chart did reflect correctly one of Kleinbard’s points: that the net effect of a 9 percent tax on business income would be similar to a 9 percent payroll tax on workers.
Readers questioned that conclusion as well as the study’s assumption that a hypothetical family with a total of $120,000 in annual wage income would spend every penny of their income and hence be taxed on all of it at the 9 percent sales tax that Cain calls for. Readers said that would be very unlikely, that families usually save or invest something of their incomes, and that much of household spending goes to things on which there is no sales tax, like rents and mortgages.
Anyway, people are interested in the 9-9-9 plan but want to understand it better. And Cain has just tweaked it today, saying families at or below the federal poverty line would be exempt from the 9 percent income tax.
An easier to understand study was done by the Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan think tank.