Michiko Kakutani, "A Master of Verse Spreads Bad Cheer", NYT 4/9/2012:
Many American readers know Larkin chiefly from his more darkly funny lines: “Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/(Which was rather late for me) —/Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban/And the Beatles’ first LP” (from “Annus Mirabilis”). Or: They mess you up, “your mum and dad./They may not mean to, but they do./ They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra, just for you” (from “This Be The Verse”).
What Larkin actually wrote in 1974 was darker, funnier, and more memorable:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
Jan Freeman comments ("They f___ you up, those stylebook rules"):
… it's the Times, so of course she can't print the bad word in the poem. She can't even use the first letter — such hints are "offensive or coy." The rule is that "an article should not seem to be saying, 'Look, I want to use this word, but they won't let me.' Generally that principle rules out telltale strings of hyphens or dashes."
Lane Greene suggests:
Grow up, NYT. Your readers are grown-ups. And if there are any children reading it, they are precocious ones who surely have heard this very common word.
For some ethnographic background, see "No fuckin' winking at the Times", 8/17/2005; "[Expletive discussed]", 7/1/2005; "Words that can't be printed in the NYT", 6/5/2006; "Taking shit from the president", 7/16/2006; "Further annals of taboo avoidance", 10/4/2006; "The NYT transgresses", 8/23/2007; "Music Review: ********", 11/13/2007; "Times bowdlerizes column on Times bowdlerization", 7/12/2008; "Annals of Bowdlerization: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", 12/6/2009; "The language of 'Mad Men' and the perils of self-expurgation", 7/22/2010; "Annals of [having sex] [feces]", 8/7/2010.
Update — a reader points out that the NYT printed asshole for the first time [oops -- not quite] a couple of weeks ago ("Race, Tragedy and Outrage Collide After a Shot in Florida", 4/1/2012):
Mr. Zimmerman told the dispatcher that this “suspicious guy” was in his late teens, with something in his hands. He asked how long it would be before an officer arrived, because “these assholes, they always get away.”
This is presumably because the editors felt that the context in this case was sufficiently newsworthy. As Kelefa Sanneh noted in a 2007 NYT music review:
Pink Eyes is the lead roarer in a ferocious band from Toronto. What band? Well, the name won’t be printed in these pages, not unless an American president, or someone similar, says it by mistake. Suffice it to say that this is an unruly hardcore punk band with a name to match.
As Abe Rosenthal quipped in 1974, "We'll only take shit from the President". Apparently George Zimmerman counts as "someone similar" enough, these days, but Philip Larkin doesn't. Or maybe fuck needs to overcome a higher barrier of celebrity than asshole does.
Update #2 — The last panel of today's Doonesbury illustrates two different levels of bowdlerization:
Note that the Times' stylebook would not allow a reporter to euphemize the soldier's quotation as "the war's a freaking clusterfrig", but would mandate an more indirect euphemism like "… asserted emphatically that the war was not going well". And in the unlikely event that a soldier actually said "freaking clusterfrig", presumably the treatment would have to be the same.
Update #3 — Ben Zimmer points out that the first asshole in the Times actually dates to 1974, in the transcript of one of the Nixon tapes. And a quick search of the NYT archives yields several others, though generally in blogs and other online-only venues, e.g. Michael Burnham, "Embattled Van Jones Quits, but 'Czar' Debates Rage On", 9/9/2009:
On Sept. 1, the group DefendGlenn.com began circulating a video of a California speech in which Jones calls Senate Republicans "assholes" for their legislative tactics. The comment — recorded last February before Jones joined the White House Council on Environmental Quality — was in response to an audience member who lamented that Democrats were less effective than Republicans in using their majority to pass energy legislation.
Jones' reply: "Well the answer to that is, they're assholes."
He added, "Now, I will say this: I can be an asshole, and some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama, are going to have to start getting a little bit uppity."