Mark Halperin is a mostly mild mannered political editor at TIME magazine and a contributor to MSNBC—far from an ideological bomb thrower, the epithet that he muttered on the MSBNC show “Morning Joe” was all the more shocking. Characterizing President Obama’s demeanor during his press conference on Wednesday, Halperin said “I thought he was kind of a dick yesterday.” The hosts joked about it in the moment but executives at MSNBC were not pleased and later that day Halperin was suspended. He would issue a formal apology to both the network and President Obama but he remained suspended indefinitely. Brazen language during political discussions isn’t anything new, even former Vice President Dick Cheney didn’t hesitate to let loose with a curse word on the floor of Congress while in the midst of a debate with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy. But is the office of the president more sacred, giving pause to using crude descriptions while criticizing the president? Would it have made a difference if, instead of using the phallic curse word, Halperin has called Obama an “insufferable jerk?” Same general message, different choice of words—does it matter? How loose should we be with our language these days, while on national television and while going after the leader of the free world?
Marc Cooper, associate professor and director of Annenberg Digital News, USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism