Anthony Scaramucci’s colossal cock-up of a phone call Wednesday night sent the media into a frenzy on Thursday as copy editors across the country struggled to determine exactly how to render what may be the greatest on-the-record statement in the history of journalism: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.” Describing an act of autofellatio while maintaining the pretense that writing about palace intrigue isn’t automatically obscene is a difficult thing to manage in the best of times, and most news organizations lack the flexibility to pull it off on short notice. Fortunately, Slate had a rib removed years ago for situations just like this! So here’s how the Fourth Estate’s greatest institutions met their biggest, hardest challenge since Watergate.
The New Yorker: It was the New Yorker’s story to begin with, so naturally it sucked it dry itself. The headline, which includes the phrase “Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload,” is funnier after reading the story, but kudos to the famously typographically fussy magazine for not getting squeamish when Scaramucci’s quotes got messy. NewYorker.com Executive Editor (and former Slatester) Jessica Winter summed up her feelings on Twitter:
The Associated Press: The AP referred to “threats” and “insults” in its headline, but reporters Julie Bykowicz and Jonathan Lemire coined the best euphemism of all in their story: that Scaramucci accused Bannon of “trying to burnish his own reputation.” Burnish! But the AP loses points for never telling its readers exactly how Scaramucci phrased that accusation, which is a shame, because a little context would make Ari Fleischer’s quote—“It reminds me of Icarus flying too close to the sun”—a lot funnier.
The New York Times: The Gray Lady called Scaramucci’s statements an “uncensored rant” in its headline, going on to reference “foul words,” “trash talk,” and “blunt lingo … [that] can sometimes sound like a cross between Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street.” It’s like film school in a photo caption! But the problem with the Times’ highfalutin’ approach becomes clear in the lede:
When Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, went on television on Thursday morning to compare himself and his adversary, Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, to Cain and Abel, it seemed to encapsulate the fratricidal nature of an administration riven by biblical rivalries.
Biblical rivalries? It’s like they somehow found an angle that made Scaramucci’s story look much bigger than it really was. But readers who make it to the eighth paragraph will find Scaramucci’s on-the-record boast that he’s “not trying to suck my own cock,” accurately transcribed for the record in the paper of record.
The Washington Post: The Post went with “obscene tirade” and “vulgar tirade” for its headlines, but its story omits Bannon’s acrobatics entirely:
He accused Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, of trying to build his “own brand off the fucking strength of the president.”
Denying Washington Post readers the soul-scarring image of Steve Bannon trying to suck his own dick does them a real disservice. Democracy dies in darkness, after all.
Fox News: Sean Hannity twisted himself into some extraordinary contortions pretending there was nothing wrong in the White House Thursday night, describing the chaos as “a war to stop leaking” instead of “a phone call where Anthony Scaramucci said Steve Bannon sucks his own cock.” So when it came time to explain to Fox’s audience why “Scaramucci” was on everyone’s lips, Hannity let Ed Henry take over:
Fox’s version of Scaramucci’s slash-fiction reads, “I’m not Steve Bannon … I’m not trying to build my own brand off the [expletive] strength of the president.” In contrast to the Washington Post’s “just the tip” method of bowdlerizing Scaramucci (who is clearly incapable of bowdlerizing himself), Fox’s ellipses represent a sort of “middle-out” solution: more efficient but unlikely to completely satisfy anyone. But Hannity still did better than Fox Business, where they apparently believe suck is a bad word:
MSNBC: If there’s one show that shouldn’t have minded running Scaramucci’s comments about Steve Bannon sucking his own cock, it’s Hardball With Chris Matthews. But Matthews couldn’t quite pull it off, calling Scaramucci’s comments a “vulgar tirade” and telling viewers “We can’t even get near the language he used on this,” before putting the word fucking very much on screen:
But Scaramucci’s most anatomically improbable claim barely makes it onto Hardball at all. “By the way, look it up if you want to get grossed out,” Matthews explains, which is pretty good advice for everything this administration does. But when it comes to making sure MSNBC viewers get all the Steve-Bannon-performing-autofellatio news they need, the network really dropped the ball.
CNN: Anderson Cooper referred to Scaramucci’s rant as “choice words” before outsourcing all of the Federal Communications Commission risks, making New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, who broke the original story, read back an edited version of Scaramucci’s comments on the air.
CNN’s version reads, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to s–k my own [expletive]… I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f—–g strength of the President.” Why is “s–k” OK for CNN but not “c–k?” Did they think people would assume Bannon was trying to “suck my own cook?” If so, why wasn’t anyone afraid people would think they meant “soak my own [expletive]?” And so what if Bannon did soak his own cook?
Anthony Scaramucci: “I sometimes use colorful language,” Scaramucci tweeted after the New Yorker’s story dropped.
“Colorful language?” Come on, Mr. Scaramucci, you just told the world Steve Bannon sucks his own cock, it’s a little late to be scandalized at your own words. You own this now, and the only way out is to lean into it. Way in. Even if it seems like you can’t reach at first.
Slate: Slate stayed away from the autofellatio quote in its headline, emphasizing a different passage in which Scaramucci described Reince Priebus as an expert at “cock-blocking.” For headline purposes, that’s rendered “c–k blocking,” with the hyphen between “cock” and “blocking” dropped, presumably so no one thinks another letter has been dropped (“Cockablocking?” “Cockoblocking?”). But the story uses, and spells out, the word cock six times—more than Scaramucci himself! Slate also published a roundup of the way other news organizations handled Scaramucci’s quote that was, if possible, even more puerile and offensive.