Stephen Labaton, last seen in Times Watch crusading against conservative complaints about liberal bias in programming at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, turned Tuesday to a decision by a federal appeals panel that "struck down the government policy that allows stations and networks to be fined if they broadcast shows containing obscene language."
Check out the headline to Labaton's front-page story,which no doubt engendered much mirthwhen createdat the Times'copy desk: "Decency Ruling Thwarts F.C.C. On Vulgarities - If Bush Can Blurt Curse, So Can Network TV."
The lead sentence: "If President Bush and Vice President Cheney can blurt out vulgar language, then the government cannot punish broadcast television stations for broadcasting the same words in similarly fleeting contexts."
Labaton later expanded on the cheap shot, which was cited by the court: "Adopting an argument made by lawyers for NBC, the judges then cited examples in which Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney had used the same language that would be penalized under the policy. Mr. Bush was caught on videotape last July using a common vulgarity that the commission finds objectionable in a conversation with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. Three years ago, Mr. Cheney was widely reported to have muttered an angry obscene version of 'get lost' to Senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the United States Senate."
The childishness continued on the jump page headline: "If Bush and Cheney Can Blurt Vulgarities, Broadcast TV Can Too, Appeals Panel Says."
In his "Today's Papers" column on Slate, Daniel Politi found the Times' coverage silly: "But figuring out what the case was about could be quite difficult for readers as the papers dance around actually writing the words that were at the heart of the matter. The NYT gets into ridiculous territory with this avoidance when it mentions a part of the decision that cites examples of how President Bush and Vice President Cheney have used the same language that could be fined by the FCC."
By contrast, the Washington Post's coverage managed to avoid the juvenilia and didn't bring up the off-point presidential vulgarity angle.