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Is 'Mr. Obama' a sign of disrespect?

Sunday - 2/13/2011, 12:13pm  ET

Hank Silverberg,

WASHINGTON - Why do reporters refer to President Obama as "Mr." Obama? One of WTOP's listeners calls it a sign of disrespect. But is it?

To learn the proper title, WTOP turns to the WTOP Answer Desk.

Tom Rosensteil, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, says the title "Mr." comes from the early days of newspapers when papers used that title for all men.

"These are referred to as 'honorifics,' because they are a sign of showing people respect," he says.

Over the years, the "Mr." was dropped for most people in the news, with the exception of the president of the United States. Traditional journalism says the president would be "President Obama" on first reference, "Mr. Obama" on the second and "the president" on the third.

The same goes for former presidents. For example, WTOP used the same rules for President Bush and President Clinton.

But some organizations have dropped the honorific altogether, including The Associated Press, many stories of which you will see on

Rosenstiel says many news organizations -- influenced by cable and radio talk shows -- have moved away from the traditional sign of respect for the office, confusing the public.

"Taking away that official title is noticeable, and you're either doing it for a point, or maybe you're being careless about it," Rosenstiel says.

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