So what is a "compelling reason" to offend an 11-year-old?
Jesse Sheidlower has been approvingly following our conversation [1, 2, 3, 4] about how newspapers censor "offensive language" and points out that NY Times editor Philip Corbett addresses this issue on the paper's web site (scroll to "why so squeamish?").
I guess we do want to have it both ways. We want to report on issues that are important and interesting to our varied and sophisticated readership. But we don't want to offend any of those readers gratuitously, and we don't want the tone of our writing to echo everything you might hear in a locker room, a bar fight or, for that matter, on late-night TV. My mother reads The Times, as does my 11-year-old son. Of course, we can't and don't edit the paper specifically to shield the most sensitive of our readers. But if we're going to offend any of them, it has to be for a compelling reason....
We also set the bar very high for racial, ethnic and sexual slurs. Reporters often argue for quoting such language, contending that the verbatim repetition is necessary to convey the tone or nature of the slur. Such arguments are usually unpersuasive. Our readers, unfortunately, know very well what constitutes a racial slur; under most circumstances, it's enough to report that one was used. Publishing such offensive language repeatedly can coarsen the tone of our writing, and perhaps further desensitize others to the use of the terms.
I didn't track down the Harry Potter reference in the article that Dr. Nussbaum referred to, so I'm not sure whether we could have been more direct without being gratuitously offensive. (I did read all the books, so I know it wasn't anything very explicit, in any case!) In general, though, the same principles would apply to double-entendres and other sexual references. We don't shy away from reporting what our readers want or need to know, but we try to do so in language that maintains the sophisticated and civil tone of The Times.
In the sophisticated and civil tone of Radosh.net: what a crock of shit.