Imagine the jolt I got when I was reading my Washington Post this morning at home in Baltimore and came across this passage in an entertaining profile of Barney Frank, the outspoken former congressman from Massachusetts who crafted the financial reform law named for him and blazed new trails as a gay politician on the Hill. The passage describes a moment in the Wednesday night class that Frank is teaching at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government:
Students typed up notes as he spoke in class, many of them flipping between Wikipedia articles to keep themselves oriented with Professor Frank's nonlinear timeline. He reminisced about the time that a congressman from Orange County in Southern California read aloud graphic descriptions of gay sex, and how Frank responded when asked about it.
"I'm less interested in a penis being inserted into an anus," Frank recalled saying, "and more interested in how the people of Orange County inserted an anus into the House of Representatives."
For Frank to throw out that line, even in the rarefied confines of an Ivy League classroom, surprises no one who has covered him over the years. This is someone who once joked, "I'm used to being in the minority. I'm a left-handed gay Jew." But for it to be in the pages of a family newspaper, in the same section as the comics and the "Kids Post" page? When I was still working at the Post just a few years ago, top editors nixed a quote with the word "damn" in one of my stories, as in "I don't give a damn what he said." Now, it's OK to have anatomically accurate descriptions of gay sex? Who knew Jeff Bezos, the Post's new owner, was such a libertine?
Alas, 'twas a fleeting moment. Later in the day, I pulled up the article online looking for an entirely different amusing quote by Frank. I noticed that the passage above had changed. In its place was this:
He reminisced about the time that a congressman from Orange County in Southern California read aloud graphic descriptions of gay sex, and how Frank responded when asked about it. (Frank said he was less concerned with what the congressman had read, and more concerned with how he wound up in Congress, though he used more colorful language.)
What happened? I checked with the writer, Ben Terris, and he told me that the language had made it through the first round of editing, but was yanked by editors before the final edition went to print Wednesday night. In other words, the only reason I got Barney in all his glory is that I live in Baltimore, where subscribers to the Post get an early edition. Apparently, it's OK for us provincials in outlying areas to be exposed to such raw imagery, but not the civilized types in Fairfax and Bethesda. Which is fine with me. My limited edition is going in a frame, for posterity's sake.