Dear Readers: I came across an interesting story by Georgiana Vines at Knoxnews.com(Knoxville, TN) entitled “How should the president of the United States be addressed in the media”. She wrote that the AP Style she followed –referring to “President Barack Obama” first then switching to “Mr. Obama” — raised the ire of some members of the community who felt the should be always be “President” and anything less was disrespectful. I wrote her the following:
— Robert Hickey
Dear Ms. Vines:
I enjoyed your posting on “How should the president of the U.S. be addressed by the media?” Showing respect for an office is a reflection that citizens understand the office represents them, and their institutions are worthy of respect – without regard to the current office holder,
This question of how to address vs. how to refer to an office holders is frequently discussed at The Protocol School of Washington’s trainings. Here is a protocol view of the forms of address issue.
For us, the issue is whether one is directly addressing The President…. in which case the correct form of address is “Mr. President”. “President” is never used as an honorific for the president of the United States in direct address.
In the most formal forms of address with the highest officials the name is not used. When you meet Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, address her as “Madame Speaker”. When you meet John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, address him as “Mr. Chief Justice”. If you meet Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom (she’s also the Queen of Canada and lots of other places), address her as “Your Majesty”.
When reporters are writing (or reading) a story about The President, they are not addressing him. Reporters are telling a story and identifying the ‘players’ in a way that will be clear to the audience. They are referring to him in the third person, so forms of address rules don’t apply.
Referring to him as “The President” might be clear, but it might not be clear if the story includes another “president”. “President Obama” is clear. “Mr. Obama” and “Obama” are also clear, but not as deferential. But as for “How to refer to the president of the United States”, I’d say is the AP style is respectful for news articles.
Usually when this topic arises, people outside protocol hold the opinion that if they were to meet The President they should address him as as “President Obama” and will argue strongly that it’s the traditional form of address. But I think “President Obama” is what they hear and read in the media day to day, and having little experience in direct dealing with The President” they are just following what they hear and read.
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info
Thanks very much for your note. This is a topic that has generated quite a bit of discussion with readers. It’s been interesting to hear from them.
— Georgiana Vines