Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What's in a name...for the President?

From the inbox...

Wednesday night WBRE's Carmen Grant referred to the President of the United States several times as "Bush"--as in "Bush's speech" and "Bush's plan."

What's the style guide on this? I was always taught that it was "President So-and-So" on the first reference and "The President" or "Mr. So-and-So" on subsequent references. "Bush" (or "Clinton" or "Washington" or "Jefferson") sounds a bit flippant to me--even bordering on disrespectful. What do your readers think?

This question gave me a good reason to dig out my AP Stylebook. Most journalists, be it print or broadcast, have a copy of this book somewhere, especially those who can write a story using clear, concise words. Think of it as an unofficial Bible and book o' rules for journalism.

Anyway, the AP's rules for refering to the President are as follows:

1. On first reference, the first name of a current or former president is not necessary, unless it's to avoid confusion (i.e. President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush).

2. On second reference, use only the last name (i.e. Bush).

If you take a look at the thousands of news articles about tonight's speech, you'll see most refer to "President Bush" on first reference, and "Bush" thereafter.

So, if Carmen Grant's first mention was "President Bush," then it appears she's following the generally-accepted rules of journalese. I've heard that journalists are supposed to refer to presidents as "Mr. Such-and-Such," but it seems to be more of a courtesy than a rule.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


The NYT and some a limited number of other publications abide by their own style guides. They make subsequent references to interviews and the like by writing Mr. So-and-so .

I don't know if I'm alone on this one, but Reporter Carmen Grant's stories seem to lack interest and creativity. Ms. Grant seems to make no point with any of her work.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's only certain newspapers (ie Times-Tribune) but most newspapers never refer to anyone as Mr. So-and-so.

It's awkward and archaic.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

with news writing as well, there is a growing trend to be more conversational in writing style... when having a conversation about President Bush, most people would not refer to him as 'The President' or 'Mr. Bush', it's usually just 'Bush'.
It goes along with tossing out words like 'the victim' after you refer to a person by name earlier in the story. Many places will use the person's last name...
"Mary Robinson was shot by her mother last night. Robinson of Avoca was a professional snake charmer."

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some media outlets still use "Mr.", but the majority use just the last name after first reference.

Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal in the 70's triggered the change for many journalists. Before Watergate, most news stories
refrained from just "Nixon","Ford",
etc. The presidency lost some of that respect and last name alone became quite common. It made news copy about presidents no different than any other person. You don't hear Mr. Jones or Mrs. Smith in everyday stories, either.

Some viewers hate when reporters say only the last names of presidents. They call it disrespectful. Most of today's reporters probably don't "Mr." used to be standard. They're just following the style set by the employer.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Typical. We've got a discussion going, and someone turns it into a personal attack.

Ask Howard to start a "Carmen Grant" thread elsewhere if you like, but why not stay on-topic here?

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey 4:34 pm:

Here's a grammar lesson for you...

It's '70s === NOT 70's.

And commas go inside quotations... NOT as you wrote it... Nixon","Ford",

bad, bad, bad...

1:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:17 PM.... seems as if you're in need of another blogsite...

This one's for all candor and comment on NEPA media... to hell with your suggestion for another thread.

1:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is President or Mr. Bush on each reference. Sometimes all of us forget but it is standard. It maybe slightly old school but nontheless what I was taught in journalism school 10-15 years ago.

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:06 --

The even older school, thankfully gone now, had another style: No honorific for blacks or criminals. "John Richards was honored by Mr. James Winslow for his bravery, etc." "Richard Nixon left the White House in a helicopter, etc." The New York Times announced that it was abandoning that practice; everyone would have an honorific, regardless of race or record.

The inside-outside quotes thing is purely USA. Commas and periods, inside; all else outside.

But WTF does it matter in a market where the news you read in the morning paper is essentially the same thing you hear on the eleven? At least on one station that's on somebody's side.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey 1:55 am:

70s is correct. The apostrophe should have been struck in proofing. I probably didn't need the quotation marks at all.

While I agree that punctuation normally goes inside the quotation marks, it's not absolute. Think about computer file names. Putting a "." for grammar could confuse.
I offer this final weak defense from a greater authority than myself:

“My feeling is that this debate is largely sterile. There is a case for consistency within any one publication. But nobody will misunderstand what you write because of where you choose to put your stops relative to quotation marks. A writer who fixes too much attention on the correctness of his punctuation, or a reader who does the same, is missing the point: the job of text is to communicate, not satisfy pedantic rule makers.”

Michael Quinion
Advisor, Oxford English Dictionary

(Sorry, can't italicize the book)

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most journalists have a copy of the AP Stylebook? Come on. Yeah, if they took the time to buy one on their own.
And speaking of using proper titles:
One of Chris Matthews's "guest" commentators (do these talking heads get paid by the minute? By the second?) last night buggered him for referring to HRC not as "Senator Clinton" but as Hillary. Chris replied that there's only one "Hillary."
As for "Dubya ...?"

11:58 AM  
Anonymous former nexstar victim said...

Inexperienced reporters are going to make inexperienced mistakes. Rookies belong in small markets to learn more, before jumping to medium markets...or even large markets.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I heard someone say "the President" or "President Bush" over and over in a story, that would tell me they took the time to show a little respect for the office, if not the man.

Plus, if any children are watching, they might learn a lesson in respect too.

Anyone who has been around a classroom lately will tell you that many teenagers no longer use Mr or Mrs or Miss when raising their hand in class. It's just "Hey Jones, may I go to the restroom?" This is odd, considering they are taking the time to ask out of courtesy, yet they demonstrate a lack of manners in the WAY they ask the question.

1:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After some of the names they've been called, I'm sure no president minds being called "Mr." or even their last name by itself. I've heard (and used) much worse for some of them! (Privately, of course!) Wouldn't it be interesting if they could be referred to THAT way in a story? How about for sweeps week? The ratings would go through the roof!

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:58 -- ...buggered him for referring to HRC not as "Senator Clinton" but as Hillary. Chris replied that there's only one "Hillary."

I've noticed that college profs and politicians tend to be spoken of differently by gender. Men are referred to by their last names, women by their first names. Not sure why, but I've noticed it over a period of time.

I do think we should keep the honorific at all times, even when the person is out of office. "President Carter," for instance. First ref in a story would be "President Bush," second ref can be "the President" or "Mr. Bush," which I think is allowable.

And, yes, I do have the stylebook from my more active days in the CV newsroom. A good investment in good journalism to avoid stupid mistakes.

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rookies belong in small markets to learn more...

I'll kick this up even further and say that these dummies should be learning this stuff during freshman year in college. Clearly, they are not. We have one serious problem with what most schools are pumping out as journalism or communications majors.

I've been saying it for over 20 years; most schools in this country that offer these majors did so to cash in on the demand, not because they were prepared to do so. Take a look around at the chairs of these departments here alone, in the Scr/W-B area. Chairs and instructors alike who have never worked eight seconds in the biz. How'd you like to learn how to fly a 757 from someone who never throttled one up, who never so much as sat in the cockpit? That's what you essentially have here.

9:18 PM  

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