The things that matter

National Public Radio ombudsman Alicia Shepard periodically provides a glimpse into the complaints the Public Radio behemoth gets. Today we also find out that people sure have a lot of time to get worked up over things.

The subject? Should the second reference to the president be Mr. Obama?

Although many listeners find this second reference offensive, it is not a new policy. NPR has used “Mr.” since the mid-1970s when President Gerald Ford was in office. The president is the only person who NPR routinely refers to with the Mr. honorific on second reference. If NPR does a story, say on James Hamilton, an Ohio car dealer, he will be Hamilton on second reference, not Mr. Hamilton.

Apparently, a lot of people consider it a matter of disrespect. So one wonders if the Associated Press, whose stylebook is the very bible on these matters, gets even more complaints. It says:

“On second reference, use only the last name .”

News organizations have to be very careful in these matters, for sometimes you can take the “respect thing” a little too far.

The New York Times, for example, is famous for once profiling the ’70s rock star, Meat Loaf and referring to him on second reference as Mr. Loaf.

Of course, some people would argue that’s a proper second reference for most sitting presidents.

  • bob

    The NYT was wrong on the second ML reference, in that Meat Loaf is not a first and a last name. The proper second reference would therefore be Mr. Meat Loaf. ; )

    On the president thing, I don’t get why the first reference is often President Barack Obama. It’s not as if anyone would be unclear to whom the story is referring if the first reference was just to President Obama.

    In any event, once the proper respect has been accorded with the first mention, it doesn’t seem disrespectful, IMHO, to in subsequent references use just the Prez’s last name.

    Given that there were two President Bushes, the proper first reference for the most recent of the two would be President “W,”, and just plain “W” after that. His dad would be referred to as President Bush the First on first reference, and The First Bush after that.

  • Bob Collins

    I think the AP’s stylebook agrees with you that a first name is not required on first reference.

  • Momkat

    So the NYT second reference should be just ‘Loaf’.