In my almost thirty five years as a reporter, there are a couple of questions that seem to regularly pop up from listeners, viewers, and readers, and one of them is how the President of the United States is referred to in the press on a second or third reference in a story. And over the years, it’s been a bipartisan accusation that I am being disrespectful to the President.
So, let me try to explain, spurred by a recent Direct Message that I received on Twitter.
“Recently, on several occasions, you referred to President Trump as “Mr. Trump.” Is there a basis for the omission of the proper office title?” I was asked. “Is this your practice regarding other elected or appointed individuals? Notwithstanding your practice, would you agree the omission of an official title is disrespectful of the office or position?”
As you can see, some people take offense when they hear “Mister” used before the Presidents name. But I consider this a sign of respect, and have used this technique since the Reagan Administration – even though complaints surface from time to time.
When you write a story for radio, for TV, or for newspapers, you would start by using “President Donald Trump” or “President Trump.”
In my radio news stories – which are especially short, at less than thirty seconds, you would not want to repeatedly say “President Trump” on a second and third reference – because it doesn’t sound good.
So, you mix it up like this on radio:
The White House says that President Trump has doubled tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from the nation of Turkey. The higher duties come as the President spars with the Turkish leader over an American pastor who is being held by authorities in Turkey. Mr. Trump thought he had a deal last month to win the pastor’s freedom, but he was not released.
In just over 20 seconds in this radio script, you have referred to the President three times, and used “Mr. Trump” in a way that you would not do for anyone else.
This is a sign of respect. No one else gets that kind of treatment. Not the Vice President. Not Governors. Not Senators.
Just open your local newspaper. You will see that most news organizations (other than the New York Times) do not use “Mr.” on a second or third reference – they just say “Trump.”
I don’t like that. The holder of the office deserves more respect, and gets that with 1) President Trump, 2) the President, and 3) Mr. Trump.
As you can see from the past on Twitter, the criticism on “Mr.” is bipartisan:
How do others deal with this?
In that story, Fox News refers to President Trump, and then after that, only calls him “Trump” or “the president.”
Check your local paper. Or read something on the web – see how they do it.
My answer is that “Mr. Trump” is a show of respect for the office holder. Just like “Mr. Obama,” and “Mr. Bush,” and “Mr. Clinton,” and “Mr. Bush,” and “Mr. Reagan.”
I have done it that way since the mid-1980’s.
But it always seems to ruffle some feathers along the way.