A Tale of Two F-Bombs: WaPo, MSNBC, CNN Bothered By Cheney in 2004, Not Biden Six Years Later

March 24th, 2010 3:12 PM

You really have to wonder what was running through Vice President Joe Biden's head when he leaned toward President Barack Obama and said "this is a big f**cking deal." Did Biden think that after nearly a year of campaigning for health care reform he was alerting Obama to something new?

But Biden isn't the first vice president to allow an expletive slip in a public forum in this day and age of a geared up media apparatus. Back in 2004, then-Vice President Dick Cheney let the F-bomb slip in remarks he made to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., over political disagreement between the two.

However, the media, particularly The Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN, took Cheney's indiscretion seriously. But Biden's indiscretion - which was actually captured on national TV - wasn't seen as so serious.

Comparative Videos Below Fold (Warning: Also Includes Explicit Language)


MSNBC's Shuster Then and Now: Cheney's F-Bomb Warranted an Overview of Politician's Language. Six Years Later Portrays F-Bomb as a T-Shirt Slogan

"And swear he did, according to witnesses this week in the U.S. Senate," Shuster said. "On Tuesday, during the annual Senate class photo-op, Vice President Cheney allegedly complained to Democrat Patrick Leahy about the senator's criticism of no-bid Iraq contracts for Halliburton, Cheney's former company. Senator Leahy responded by complaining about alleged administration smears of Democrats. Cheney then used the F-word, telling Leahy, go -- yourself."

"Whether or not the vice president this week was simply blowing off steam, his timing was impeccable because his outburst happened the very day the U.S. Senate passed the Defense of Decency Act, legislation aimed at curbing bad language," Shuster quipped.

However Biden's slip - it didn't warrant quite the attention and evaluation of foul language used in the American political culture, as Shuster portrayed Biden's "own special style" in his March 23 "MSNBC Live" segment.

"This has been another huge day for the Obama administration and a day that Vice President Joe Biden summed up in his own special style at today's signing ceremony," Shuster said. "‘Big f---ing deal.' The president may not have appreciated the words. But his Press Secretary Robert Gibbs backed up the vice president a little later in a tweet. Whatever words you want to use to describe it, there is no arguing this is a day of historic developments here at the White House."

And later in Shuster's broadcast, describing Biden's use of the metaphor as "salty language," he showcased T-shirts celebrating its use.

"At the top of the show, we showed you the clip of the day," Shuster said. "Vice President Joe Biden using some salty language at today's health care bill signing. Well, check this out. The phrase is already for sale as a T-shirt on Zazzle.com. We've covered up the offending word, but you - for $23.50 you can have it without any cover-up."

Washington Post Prints Actual Expletive in 2004

Back in the June 25, 2004 Washington Post, Helen Dewar and Dana Milbank determined that Cheney's use of the expletive was newsworthy, it warranted printing it in the paper.

"A brief argument between Vice President Cheney and a senior Democratic senator led Cheney to utter a big-time obscenity on the Senate floor this week," Dewar and Milbank wrote. "On Tuesday, Cheney, serving in his role as president of the Senate, appeared in the chamber for a photo session. A chance meeting with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, became an argument about Cheney's ties to Halliburton Co., an international energy services corporation, and President Bush's judicial nominees. The exchange ended when Cheney offered some crass advice. ‘Fuck yourself,' said the man who is a heartbeat from the presidency."

As for the Biden gaffe nearly six years later? Buried deep in the eighth paragraph of the front-page story in March 24 Washington Post, staff writer Scott Wilson chalked it up as "excited profanity."

"That list included Vice President Biden, who introduced Obama, then leaned toward him amid a storm of applause and slipped into excited profanity," Wilson wrote. "‘This,' Biden whispered, louder than he thought, ‘is a big [expletive] deal.'"

Slate's Dan Kois reported on the Post's decision to print the F-bomb in 2004, explaining that the paper's executive editor Leonard Downie actually approved the printing and the Post's ombudsman at the time, Michael Getler, said it had been deemed "newsworthy and necessary."

"According to the Post's ombudsman, Michael Getler, his conversation with Executive Editor Leonard Downie yesterday clarified the paper's long-standing policy on the use of profanity on its pages," Kois wrote. "‘The paper doesn't do it unless it's exceptionally newsworthy and necessary for readers to understand and make a judgment' on the story, Getler says."

CNN's Ed Henry: Cheney's Outburst ‘Nastier Parts' of Campaign, Biden's ‘Unscripted Moment'

Either there are two different sets of rules of decorum for the U.S. Capitol and the White House, or CNN's Ed Henry applying a double to Cheney as well. Back on CNN's June 24, 2004 "Anderson Cooper 360," Henry was the congressional correspondent for the network and reported on the exchange between Cheney and Leahy, describing it as "one of the nastiest parts of the presidential campaign," as the 2004 election cycle was cranking up.

"Obviously, the Senate floor is a place for decorum," Henry said. "Normally, you do not see profanity like that. Vice President Cheney's office confirmed that there was a real confrontation here. They said, quote, ‘That doesn't sound like the language that the vice president would use, but I can confirm that there was a frank exchange of views.' The bottom line here is that the vice president clearly upset at these continued attacks by Democrats, by Leahy and others. That's been one of the nastiest parts of the presidential campaign. I think it's a clear sign that this campaign is only going to get nastier before it gets better."

But as for Biden's slip - well, he was just caught up in the moment, as he explained on CNN's March 23 "The Situation Room." 

"So they're saying, look, this is a big deal," Henry said. "Maybe he shouldn't have added that extra adjective, if you will. But bottom line is they think it is a big deal. They're glad the vice president is touting it. And they think that may defuse it. This is certainly not the first time the vice president's had an unscripted moment."