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THE PRESS AND SEX : Why Most Editors Lean to Dots, Dashes, Euphemisms : Language: They worry about offending readers with sexually explicit words and obscene terms. But are readers sometimes misled by the desire not to discomfort?

THE PRESS AND SEX: Assesing media's coverate when private matters become public. Second in a two-part series.

August 19, 1991|DAVID SHAW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1972, the Los Angeles Times published a story on Frasier, a physically debilitated lion at Lion Country Safari, who had sired more than 30 cubs with six different mates in 18 months, despite being 75 years old in human terms. The Times published a photograph of Frasier with the story. The photo was no Mapplethorpe; it simply showed Frasier lying on his back, napping under the "watchful eye of one of his wives."

But, between editions, the watchful eye of a Times editor noticed that Frasier's genitals were clearly visible in the photo. He ordered them eliminated for the next edition, seemingly on the theory that the mere sight of Frasier's cub-making equipment might have caused lasting psychological damage to any child who happened to see the picture.

That evening, when I showed the Frasier story to the 10-year-old boy who then lived next door, he read it with great amusement, then looked at the photo and, confused, and concerned, said to me:

"But, Mr. Shaw, what happened to his balls?"

Three days later, there was a 69-car pileup on the Pomona Freeway near Claremont. The story was the main banner headline on Page 1 of that day's Late Final edition of the Los Angeles Times and it remained on Page 1 in the next day's home edition. But in both editions, in headlines and stories alike, The Times called the accident a "70-car" pileup.

The editor who made that change said he had done so to avoid "titillating or offending readers" by reminding them of the sex act of the same number.

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