Why Saying ‘Mr. President’ is Not Disrespectful
Some people who use the title ‘Mr. President’ in referring to the Chief Executive get accused of being disrespectful.
Is the title “Mr. President” disrespectful to the man in the White House?
When one works in television and reads some of the comments TV station employees receive, one quickly learns to never make the claim, “I’ve seen it all!”
Recently, viewers made the complaint that one of our anchors was disrespectful because he referred to Donald Trump as “Mr. President.”
To be fair, someone sent a message to NPR in 2009 complaining of their use of “Mr. Obama:”
“In speaking or in writing, the proper form of address for the president of the United States is ‘The President’ or ‘Mr. President.’ The President is due the respect of his office.”
It turns out, however, that using the title “Mister” before the president’s last name or the title “Mr. President” is precisely a show of respect decided upon by none other than our first president, George Washington himself.
It was 1789, the year Washington was sworn in, that a debate raged in Congress: how should the United States refer to its chief executive? Vice President John Adams pushed for Highness, as in “His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.”
Thomas Jefferson, as the story goes, upon being informed of that suggestion, referred to the idea as “the most superlatively ridiculous thing I ever heard of.”
Adams later decided that even that wasn’t “high” enough, and then proposed Majesty.
Can you imagine the uproar if Obama had been referred to “His Majesty” for the past eight years? Can you imagine the uproar from the other side if Trump were so named now?
George Washington decided on “Mr. President” as the acceptable title.
Many media outlets use AP Style, a specific set of writing guidelines published and updated regularly by the Associated Press. AP Style specifically requires the president be addressed by name and title, as in “President Donald Trump,” on first reference, and then by last name only on all subsequent references in the same story. AP Style does not use courtesy titles, so “Mr. Trump” is not likely to be found in a story written in that style.
Other sources, like NPR, and some newspapers, use courtesy titles throughout their stories.
Some anchors think it’s more respectful to say “Mr. Trump,” but they don’t extend the courtesy title to anyone except the president. In that case, I’m not sure how viewers can see it as an insult to the president.
Then again, in this day and age, we’ll always find something to complain about.