President Obama or Mr. Obama?

By Mark Bullock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Ever since the election of President Barack Obama, a controversy has been brewing over the way in which Mr. Obama is referred to by the media. It is a controversy that seems to arise every time a new president is elected.

Viewers have asked WSFA 12 News why the president is sometimes called "Mr. Obama." The same question also is asked on blogs and radio talk shows.

According to the Associated Press style guide, which is recognized by most media organizations in the U.S., it is correct to refer to the president of the United States as "President Barack Obama" on first reference. In subsequent references, it is appropriate to refer to him only as "Obama."

The same was true for previous presidents. For example, the AP recommended using "President Bush," on first reference, but only "Bush" on subsequent references. And most journalists adhered to this recommendation.

However, some media organizations, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and most broadcast networks, choose NOT to refer to the president by only his last name. They add "Mr." as a sign of respect. Only the president is afforded this courtesy.

It was America's first president, George Washington, who wanted the country's leader referred to as "Mr. President" to avoid any confusion with royalty. So the policy of adding "Mr." is not without some context.

The reason for style guidelines is simple. They help the media produce tight, well-worded reports that are easy to read. Writing "President Obama" dozens of times in one story would become tiresome. So on second reference, "Mr. Obama" or "the president" must suffice.

Click on these links to see examples in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

CBS News recently posted a similar explanation of this controversy on its blog, which you can read here.