The Truth About 'Teabagging': Is the Term Offensive?

Members of the tea-party movement are very particular about what they believe. It turns out, they’re also adamant about what they should be called. Or not be called.

Since the movement started growing, cable-news anchors have looked for a creative and snappy way to describe just what activists were doing during demonstrations. The term of choice? “Teabagging,” which would normally describe nothing more than an innocent Earl Grey–inspired foray with Aunt Helen. Except of course, for the other meaning of “teabagging.” The one used more often in fraternity houses than tea houses. (You can read the definition at Urban Dictionary.)

Widespread offense at the term has led to 1,239 indecency complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In fact, the use of the word “teabagging” earned the second most indecency complaints on cable TV. Only cable-news giant CNN received more complaints for a rant by Jack Cafferty against China on an April 2008 broadcast of The Situation Room (2,273 people protested the show).

Over time, one of the biggest abusers of the word “teabagging” appears to be MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who sarcastically asked in April 2009 if “teabagging” is “something that can be done alone.”  Those types of remarks encouraged people to file more indecency complaints against the use of the term “teabagging” than both a "Girls Gone Wild" commercial and the MTV Video Music Awards, combined.

But in the realm of FCC complaints, that’s not the upper boundary. Cable-network programs don’t hold a candle to the number of complaints filed against broadcast-television shows. One episode of Fox’s Family Guy from March 2009 raked in 188,368 complaints for featuring a baby eating cereal that contained horse semen. Here are two charts listing the other cable and broadcast offenders:

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