Rolling Stone editor Neil Strauss shares some exchanges New York Times copy editors from his days as a rock critic, several years ago:

Editing an article that quotes the Courtney Love lyric, “I’m eating you / I’m overfed” . . .

COPYEDITOR: We have to remove that quote.

NS: What’s wrong with it?

COPYEDITOR: It’s about oral sex.

NS: The whole article hinges on that lyric.

COPYEDITOR: If you want, I can run it past the news desk and see what they say.

Ten minutes later . . .

COPYEDITOR: The news desk says it’s about oral sex.

This one is flat-out bizarre. It sounds like the copy editor was confused about the rules, or making up an ad hoc justification. The line about "the religious right" sounds closer to the truth:

Editing a Rage Against the Machine review . . .

COPYEDITOR: You write here that the band has lyrics attacking misogynists and homophobes.


COPYEDITOR: Did the band say “homophobes”?

No, that’s my summary of the lyrics.

COPYEDITOR: We have a rule that “homophobes” is a word that can only be used by homosexuals in the newspaper.

Isn’t that a double standard?

COPYEDITOR: There’s also the case of the religious right. We don’t want to accuse anyone of having a clinical psychological condition that is the cause of their actions.

Anti-gay bigotry is a character defect, not a psychiatric diagnosis. If the Times style gods incorrectly construed it as a psychiatric term of art, why would they make an exception for gay people who weren't mental health professionals?

If there was ever a ban on "homophobia" in the mouths of non-homosexuals (how would they know?), a keyword search of the NYT website suggests that the rule is, thankfully, no longer in effect. Today, homophobia discussed as a phenomenon, not just a charge a identifiably gay source might make.

Now, if we could just get the New York Times to call waterboarding "torture" again. They used to, until the Bush administration started asserting that it wasn't.

[Photo credit: tanakawho, Creative Commons.]