Hell’s Belles: Southern Listeners Spark Discussion Over NPR’s Use Of “Goddamn”

NPR received quite a bit of backlash from some of their listeners in the South after neglecting to bleep the term “goddamn” in a recent radio piece about Tom Cruise’s “Les Grossman” character. The piece featured a soundbite of Cruise, in character, using the swear word in a monologue about working in Hollywood.

NPR ombudsman Alicia C. Shepherd has addressed the issue on her blog, noting that this is now the second time she’s had to broach the subject. Previously, she focused on the backlash from listeners after NPR ran a piece about The Hurt Locker without bleeping out “goddamn,” even though several other swear words in the piece had been censored.

Shepherd admits to feeling a shift in her take on the issue:

This time, I’m seeing the question through a different lens — one that is not based in the New York-Washington corridor, where this example of offensive language often goes in one ear and out the other.

It may not be offensive to me. But NPR has 901 member stations and millions of listeners.

As of the latest national ratings period, fall 2009, NPR stations reach 33.9 million Americans every week, according to NPR data. NPR programming and newscasts reach 27.1 million.

There is no doubt that a healthy number of those listeners take the Lord’s name seriously and are offended when it is taken in vain.

(Then again… isn’t the word still considered a “bad word” even when placed outside of a religious context?)

Thus, Shepherd expressed her thoughts that, like CBS and NBC, NPR should consider bleeping out the use of “goddamn” on air. However, Ellen Weiss, senior vice president for news at NPR, doesn’t quite share her views on the issue, and maintains that has yet to find a “compelling reason” to change NPR’s current stance.