On July 2, on her blog on the National Public Radio website, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard posted a piece with the title “ Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain .” In it she describes the complaints NPR received when, on June 23, the network broadcast a story about Tom Cruise that included an audio clip of the actor, in character as a fictitious movie mogul at the MTV Movie Awards, uttering the word (as the blog post spelled it) god**** .

As Shepard explains, “It’s against the law to say some words on air, according to the Federal Communication Commission. But NPR’s legal team says that using the Lord’s name in vain for emphasis is not illegal.” She asks, “So even if it’s not illegal, does that make it right?” and notes that

Since the bulk of NPR’s staff is in Washington, DC, I’m guessing that many staffers wouldn’t even hear the Cruise clip as profane. But they should think about how others might hear it—including [a listener from North Carolina] and the others who called or wrote to complain.

It’s a simple thing to bleep it out.

CBS and NBC both have a policy that forbids using the word on their air. NPR should adopt such a policy and ensure that its staff all knows about it and adheres to it.


Sadly, as Shepard, goes on to relate, when she made the case to NPR’s senior vice president for news that the word in question should be banned, the executive replied, “I don’t see a compelling reason to change our practice.”

The NPR ombudsman’s bog post has attracted many comments—and many of those comments are both angry and profane. Read them at your own risk.

Articles by Mary Ellen Kelly

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