December 12, 2007

The teeth here are obscene

Ernest, who also provided the title for this post, noticed a really swell concrete example of how media self-censorship muddles otherwise straightforward news stories.

The Denver Post article on Internet blog postings by church-shooter Matthew Murray reads,

"You christians brought this on yourselves," Murray writes in his 452-word harangue. "I'm coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the @#%$ teeth and I WILL shoot to kill.

It goes on to compare this to writings by Columbine killer Eric Harris:

In his notebooks, Harris proclaimed: "I'm coming for EVERYONE soon, and I WILL be armed to the (expletive) teeth, and I will shoot to kill."

The only substantive change Murray made to the Harris writing is replacing the name of Harris' target, classmate and neighbor Brooks Brown, with "Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world."

Why "@#%$" in one example and "(expletive)" in the other? Well we know that Harris actually wrote "fucking" so the only way to make sense of this is to assume that "(expletive)" is Post style for censored words, which means that Murray really did write "@#%$," and not "fucking" or some other swear word.

That could be an interesting comment on his psyche and his upbringing, perhaps indicating that his Christian education was far more successful at inculcating him with the commandment "thou shalt not say 'fucking'" than "thou shalt not kill." (Much as newspapers are far more easygoing about graphically describing violent crime than about using naughty language). And indeed CNN helpfully explains that the non-substantive change was "the exception of symbols used to replace an expletive."

But wait. Other sources say Murray wrote that he would be "armed to the (expletive) teeth," while yet others say he wrote "the -- teeth" (are there really any two-letter obscenities?). AP apparently originally put out "[expletive]" then corrected it to "@#%$." If the censorship habit makes things this confusing to professional editors, who have been known to curse themselves from time to time, you'd think their impulse would be to make them less confusing to readers.

But here's something even more confusing. Murray's original messages to the ex-Pentecostal forum have been removed, but he cross-posted to alt.suicide.holiday which preserves his comment as,

I'm coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the fucking teeth and I WILL shoot to kill. Ö.God, I can't wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don't care if I live or die in the shoot-out. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you Ö as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world. [ellipses in original]

So apparently Murray had no problem cursing sometimes. Which may mean he altered his language for his audience. Perhaps he knew his postings would be taken down from the Pentecostal board if he cursed... though, again, not if he threatened to gun down Christians! That actually says something newsworthy: he was in a rational frame of mind not long before the killings.

And just to muddy the waters one more time, this article quotes the teeth post (using the symbols) as well as a second post rendered, bafflingly, "You guys were awesome. It's time for me to head out and teach these (expletive) a lesson." So did Murray write "bastards" or "assholes" or "cocksuckers" the second time? Or did he write "(expletive)" or "@#%$?"

Don't expect an answer from the chicken@#%$ media.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


One possibility for the discrepancy between the cross-posts is that the ex-Pentecostal message board automatically substitutes @#%$ for preset banned words, and the alt.suicide board doesn't. The board might have missed some other words, which survived and had to be (explitive)'d by editors. (I know some bulletin board software substitutes "****ing" for "fucking," etc., depending on adminstrator settings.)

are there really any two-letter obscenities?


I guess I see your point about a clue to his frame of mind, but generally I think I disagree.

In this particular case, does it actually matter what the curse word was? It was an adjective used for emphasis.

Frankly the sentiment behind his words is far more disturbing than any swear word, so if you're offended by people saying fuck, you're probably going to be too delicate to read the whole article... I don't know, dude.

Sometimes itís an agenda thing:

I remember a reporter years ago who wanted to embarrass a self righteous bible-thumper trying to close a video store selling adult titles. The quote "They need to keep their damn smut out of my community," appeared in print as: "They need to keep their (expletive) smut out of my community."

The scribe rationalized (to himself because he never told his editor) that "damn" was probably an expletive in speaker's pristine community so why not protect their sensitive ears from this horrible word.

Of course the reporter was a left-leaning, atheist, Grateful Dead fan who hated self-righteous bible thumpers (and whose fingers are now on my keyboard.)

"And that reporter, gentlemen ... was ME."

"And that's...the rest of the story."

"Good night, and good *uck."

That fucking chickenbitch media...

Clearly Ernest posted the correct answer. The blog censored the word, which kind of proves the point of this post (that old-school media like newspapers censor more than new-school media like blogs) wrong.

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