The Taboo Desk here at Language Log Plaza is piled high with reports about taboo language and offensive language — about the classification of particular expressions as obscene/profane or otherwise offensive, about the open use of such expressions, about ways people avoid them, and so on. Now, on the front page of the New York Times on November 14, a story ("It Turns Out You Can Say That On Television, Over and Over", by Edward Wyatt) about expressions that don't reach the level of obscenity or profanity but are offensive to many people — and have now been appearing with increasing frequency on television (in prime-time network series), where they can serve as approximations to even stronger stuff.
The Times is famously modest in the vocabulary it allows in its pages (though it sometimes slips up), an editorial position that can make some stories hard to report on; see Ben Zimmer's entertaining posting "Times bowdlerizes column on Times bowdlerization", which includes a link to a Slate piece by Jesse Sheidlower on the time SCUMBAG slipped into a Times crossword puzzle.
Wyatt's story mentions the insult douche but skirts douchebag, saying:
Users of the recently popular word "douche" defend its use, noting that it was invoked, usually with the suffix "bag," [not actually a suffix, of course] in the 1990s by the character Andy Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue," an ABC series that frequently pushed the boundaries of network acceptability.
But then in a quote from cursing scholar Timothy Jay, we get the full word: "I would bet most kids today couldn't tell you what a douche bag is."
Besides douche, the article reports on the use of bitch, jackass, and sucks on prime-time network television. Those are things you can print in the Times (though I think the paper is still averse to scumbag).