Nuts for Nuts, Part II

07/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The reluctance to pronounce the word "nuts" reached cartoonish new heights last night on "NBC Nightly News," where the word was not only not spoken, but visually obscured on the screen, both in the blaring headline on the New York Post and the transcription on the original "O'Reilly Factor" clip. The original clip, broadcast on Wednesday night, aired Jackson's whispered comment, bleeping out the word "nuts" but printing it in the on-screen transcription in recognizable form, spelling it "n_ts." That hat-tip to decency and decorum presumably still left most viewers able to discern the finer points of the Reverend's comments.

Is this story worth reporting or what? We live in a multi-media world. Chances are that even those who had not seen the original O'Reilly clip had divined what dastardly word Jackson spake, seeing as tabloid papers gleefully printed it and journalists fell all over themselves to circuitously describe it, with such phrases as "cutting off a part of Barack Obama's anatomy" "twin objects of male anatomy" "genitals, or something" and "castration." If you don't want to use the word, fine — go that route. But to ostentatiously make a point of showing yourself not showing the word is a bit much.

On CBS, they were more straightforward: Katie Couric showed the O'Reilly clip in conversation with Jeff Greenfield, with little fanfare and no apology. The clip was shown as it was originally aired, with Jackson's whispered "nuts" bleeped out and the spelling of "n_uts" left intact. Afterwards, Couric and Greenfield discussed Obama's distancing from the identity politics so associated with Jackson, rather than kvelling over the terminology used.

As for ABC, Charlie Gibson neatly sidestepped the issue by focusing purely on Phil Gramm (he did, however, offer his own sort of hat-tip to Lil' Wayne in this near-rapped assessment: "Barack Obama was quick to pounce, John McCain was quick to renounce").

One area where "NBC News" was — yes — ballsier: Showing a clip from SNL's "Obama Files" TV Funhouse cartoon from the March 1st episode. Correspondent Lee Cowan noted that the political distance between Obama and Jackson was "so glaring it's even been parodied on 'Saturday Night Live.'" But the clip — and whole cartoon — shows the distance as decidedly one-sided, with Jackson (and Al Sharpton) offering themselves up to assist the Obama campaign and Obama doing everything to distract and distance from that association. What's interesting, to me, as a watcher of such things, is that this clip is from March 1st — and back then, no one touched it. Aside from a segment by Dan Abrams (and an accidental showing on MSNBC which left Mika Brzezinski baffled), it got no airplay that I could tell, certainly none of the widespread coverage that greeted the Hillary/Obama sketches.

Yet at that time, it addressed a pretty loaded and still-unaddressed topic: How Obama was approaching the identity politics of his race, and what his relationship was with established black political leaders like Jackson and Sharpton — leaders who had risen to prominence as outspoken (and often controversial) African-American advocates. Recall that this was after the South Carolina primary (and Bill Clinton's controversial comparison of Obama to Jackson) but before the Reverend Wright controversy forced Obama to explicitly address the issue of race, as he did in what is now known as his "Race Speech" ("A More Perfect Union") on March 18, 2008. It would have been REALLY ballsy for NBC to have aired the sketch — and the issue — back then.

The sketch is below, followed by the NBC segment, followed by the two relevant screengrabs from the segment.