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January 12, 2018

FCC Fields Viewer Complaints Over TV Networks’ “Sh*thole” Reportage

As the media scrambled to determine how deep of a “sh*thole” it wanted to dig yesterday, some viewers took offense at the language used on NBC and CNN and complained to the FCC.

The commission confirmed to Deadline having received a handful of complaints about networks’ reports about President Donald Trump’s explicit description of immigrants from certain countries. It didn’t specify a number or offer any details.

Not all networks quoted Trump using this variation of the s-word — Fox News, CBS News and ABC News stayed with censored versions, even in on-screen graphics. On CNN, while the graphics spelled out the word, hosts took different tacks — Wolf Blitzer winced and read a sanitized version, while Jake Tapper and Don Lemon were among those using the word repeatedly.

According to the FCC’s guidelines on “obscene, indecent and profane broadcasts,” any usage of indecent or profane material should occur outside of the hours between 6 AM and 10 PM. The “Sh*thole Incident,” as historians will no doubt come to describe it, straddled that time span, though broadcast late-night generally played it safe. Reading the guidelines, it seems to be more profane than indecent or obscene (though for plenty it was all three and more).

Media outlets more broadly have been flummoxed by the task of reporting on the story, with the New York Times using the word “sh*thole” for the first time in its history but not splashing it in a headline atop its print edition. National Public Radio, similarly, opted for moderation. Its standards editor said in a memo to staff that it is necessary to use the word “sh*thole” on the radio (with forewarning to listeners) in order for listeners to understand the news of the day. But the memo cautioned, “No more than one use of the word each hour in the main shows.”

Variety had first word of the viewer complaints to the FCC.

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