Last October, when the Trump/Pussygate story broke, I said it would “go down in history as a watershed moment in public profanity.” Now, six months into the Trump administration, we’ve come to another banner day for profanity, as the New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza reports on a remarkable conversation with Anthony Scaramucci, aka the Mooch, Trump’s incoming communications director. Scaramucci unloaded on White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, with a side order of profanity devoted to Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon. And news outlets all over the world are reporting on it.
What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the President’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people.
Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.
[Channeling Priebus:] “Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.”
I’ve done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have to go fuck themselves.
I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President.
Yeah, let me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy.
Scaramucci’s F-bombs (and one S-bomb) are noteworthy enough, but his two phallic metaphors take things to a new level. First there’s cock-block, defined by Green’s Dictionary of Slang as “to ruin another man’s sexual activities by stealing his woman, interrupting his seduction, etc.” Print examples go back to 1972, originally in African American usage. GDoS notes that the extended meaning (“to imply interference in any plans, efforts”) has been in use since at least the early ’90s. Connie Eble of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has had her students compile slang lists for the last few decades, and in 1991 one student defined cock-block as “come in from an unseen angle to prevent someone from doing something.”
Scaramucci apparently felt cock-blocked by Priebus (who reportedly tried to keep Trump from hiring the Mooch), and he figured Priebus was doing the same to former Fox News executive Bill Shine before Trump could hire him. The metaphorical cock-blocking, as Scaramucci imagined it, took the form of Priebus leaking news about Shine attending a dinner with Trump, which Priebus wasn’t invited to. Lizza says Priebus didn’t provide the leak, so the cock-blocking was all in the Mooch’s mind.
Then there was Scaramucci’s suggestion that Bannon is “trying to suck [his] own cock” — apparently meaning that Bannon is egotistically putting his own interests ahead of the president’s. It’s one thing to call someone a cocksucker, quite another to accuse someone of committing autofellatio. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of this form of self-pleasure being equated with elevating oneself to the detriment of others, but that’s apparently how it works in Mooch-speak.
So how did this sensational news get reported in outlets beyond the New Yorker? The New York Times, having broken down barriers by publishing fuck and pussy on its front page during Pussygate, decided not to hold back this time either, printing all of Scaramucci’s profanities.
Deputy managing editor Clifford Levy tweeted out the paper’s rationale.
Some outlets reprinted the F-bombs but blocked the cock talk. The Washington Post‘s article included fucking three times but skated over the quote about Bannon: “He accused Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, of trying to build his ‘own brand off the fucking strength of the president.'”
NPR (on its website at least) also decided fucking was OK, but felt the need to expurgate the cock-sucking, reproducing the quote as “I’m not Steve Bannon; I’m not trying to s*** my own c***.” That surprised Ari Shapiro, host of NPR’s All Things Considered. I suggested that the NPR style choice might be attempting to follow the FCC’s rules on obscenity, where only descriptions of “sexual conduct” (like, say, self-cock-sucking) is obscene, while the intensifier fucking could be considered non-sexual. (These issues came up in a 2012 Supreme Court case on “fleeting expletives.”)
Journalistic style manuals may be ill-equipped in this case, however. Nancy Friedman got this response on Twitter from San Francisco Chronicle copy editor Andrea Behr, suggesting cocksucker would need expurgation but “sucks his own cock” would not.
CNN allowed all the profanities to be printed in an online piece by Chris Cillizza. On screen, things were more complicated.
When Ryan Lizza appeared on CNN to talk about the story, Anderson Cooper had him read some of the choice quotes and perform on-the-fly expurgation. In keeping with CNN’s chyron, he rendered the Bannon quote as “I’m not trying to blank my own expletive.”
MSNBC, rather surprisingly, allowed fucking (if not cock) to appear in an on-screen banner on “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” though Matthews did not actually say the word (replacing it with “expletive”).
There’s a lot more one could say, but I’ll wrap it up with suggestions for new terms to replace “locker room talk,” the euphemism that Trump used to dismiss the furor over Pussygate.
(Update: On Medium, Elizabeth Spiers presents an imagined statement by Scaramucci about the New Yorker article, written entirely in pungent Mooch-speak. Meanwhile, The Onion offers a fact-check. And Slate has its own roundup of media reactions.)