Trump’s Demeaning Words: Not Made for Evening News

A video of the 2005 conversation between Donald Trump and Access Hollywood host Billy Bush dominated coverage Oct. 7. It is unusual for networks to present profanity-laced language from a major party’s presidential nominee. But that is what CBS, NBC, and ABC had to do — and they all did it differently.

In the vulgar exchange about women, Trump used five expletives. CBS aired four, NBC three, and ABC two. While all are bleeped out, newscasts differ in their presentations of the sound bites.

CBS started its newscast with: “We caution you, you won’t want young children to hear it.” Among the captions are f***, b****, t***, and p***y.

NBC’s Lester Holt said: “We want to warn you, some of the language you’re about to hear may be offensive.” Its captions: b****, t***, and p****.


NBC Nightly News


NBC Nightly News

ABC did not warn its audience, and unlike CBS and NBC, put asterisks in place of the expletives.

ABC World News


ABC World News

At a potential turning point in the election, how do networks cover lewd yet newsworthy audio? What obligation is there to warn the audience of what they will hear?

For Norm Ornstein, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute: “My preference, given the importance and stakes of the election, would be to allow the crude and offensive language to play out. It tells us something powerfully about the people using the language, and bleeps or asterisks dilute that portrait. But I understand the actions taken by the networks, and accept the choices — with the caveat that I think all three should have issued a warning.”

What should be concealed and what should be evident? What are the implications of filtering language — does it protect the candidate?

According to Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media Group: “I’m not a big fan of concealing though I do understand that the evening news is exactly at a time when small kids will be watching. I don’t think it protects a candidate. If anything bleeping makes it more salacious.”

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