AML in Print

Why Do Journalists Call The President Mister?

by Ken Bastida
April 1st 2009

Every week CBS 5 receives angry emails about the media calling the President Obama mister. The same was true when former President Bush held the office. Many viewers think the practice is a sign of disrespect for the man in office, but referring to the president as Mr. is a longstanding journalistic tradition.

When he was sworn in as president in 1789, George Washington preferred the title of "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties." But within a year, Washington consented to the demands of James Madison and others who thought the title "Mr. President" seemed a little less like a monarchy.

"The White House refers to the President as Mr. President...not President Obama...and I usually take my cue from them. I'm sure his cabinet refers to him as President Obama or Mr. President," said etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts.

Grotts said both references are correct, as long as they are first references, after that, it is technically acceptable to call him Mr. Obama in print, or on the air.

"When you hear 'Mr. Obama.' it's only in reference to the president...never when one of the newscasters or reporters is addressing the president," said Grotts.

CBS 5 regularly gets asked about this practice, and we always tell viewers that the practice is not a sign of disrespect. In fact, the Associated Press style book says, "On second reference, use only the last name." A female president would be able to choose from Miss, Mrs. Or Ms. Depending on her preference.