Using an ethnic slur

Once again, the New York Times has tip-toed around a taboo word or (in this case) slur by paraphrasing a speaker, while signaling that the speaker used an item banned from the paper.

This time, it came in the story “Ben Carson Is Struggling to Grasp Foreign Policy, Advisers Say” by Trip Gabriel, which quotes Duane R. Clarridge, former CIA agent and adviser to Carson:

“Russian special forces are staying in the Titanic Hotel in Sulaymaniya,” the operative said, according to notes recorded by [Carson’s top adviser Armstrong] Williams. “They frequent an Irish pub in the hotel bar.”

“The jump from Erbil and Soviets [by which Clarridge must have meant Russians]” to the Chinese in Damascus “is a long leap,” Mr. Clarridge said, using an ethnic slur for the Chinese.

Two things here:

First thing: What did Clarridge actually say? The reasonably common slurs woud be Chinks, Slopes, Slants, or Slant-eyes. Gabriel is our only source on the question. Apparently he thought it was newsworthy that an adviser to Carson spoke disparagingly of the Chinese, but that Clarridge’s choice of slur was beside the point.

Second thing: Look at the material boldfaced above. This is not in quotation marks, so Gabriel would have been within his rights to just use a non-slur reference to the Chinese without comment. (Dequoting — moving stuff out of quotation marks and paraphrasing it there — is one way journalists avoid using taboo words and slurs in their reporting.) But it seems that Gabriel wanted to snipe at Clarridge by painting him as a bigot.

The strategy is not uncommon, especially when a reporter is dealing with a prominent but frequently foul-mouthed speaker: you report the gist but add something like “peppering his speech with obscenities”. Well, you do this if you think the speaker’s use of particular obscenities in some context is a blot on his character.

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