What We Call The President

Periodically, we get e-mails complaining about how we refer to the President in our copy. We asked White House correspondent Mark Knoller to respond. -- Ed.

(AP / CBS)
During my 18 years at CBS News, most of it covering the White House, there's no issue on which I get more listener and viewer mail and e-mail than on our references to the President as "Mister."

It is CBS News practice to refer to the President and former Presidents on second reference with the honorific "Mister."

Everyone else in the political universe is referred to on second reference by their last name.

That goes for Prime Minister Tony Blair, King Abdullah of Jordan, soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and even Vice President Dick Cheney. We'll use their title in the first sentence of a report, but on second reference it's just "Blair," "Abdullah," "Pelosi," or "Cheney." None of them get the prefix "Mister" or "Madame."

But not the President. When we call him Mr. Bush in our radio and TV news reports, it is meant as a sign of respect, though some misinterpret it as derision of some kind.

I've gotten letters demanding to know why I don't call him President Bush in every reference.

The answer is: it's bad writing.

Take this radio report I filed yesterday on the President's visit to the Pentagon:

In the Pentagon conference room known as "The Tank," President Bush is consulting with top civilian and military officials as part of his effort to draft a new strategy on Iraq. But White House spokesman Tony Snow still says it will be next month before Mr. Bush is ready to announce his new way forward.

SNOW: "What's happened is that the President has been clear that there are a number of things he wants people to explore and he wants more detailed answers about various options."

Mr. Bush is also waiting for Robert Gates to be sworn in Monday as Secretary of Defense and report back on his planned visit to Iraq. Live at the White House, I'm Mark Knoller, CBS News.

If on every reference I called him "President Bush," it would grate on the ear. By calling him "Mister Bush" on second reference, we make the report easier to understand – while at the same time – showing our respect.

So please bear that in mind, when you hear the phrase "Mister Bush." No disrespect is meant or intended. Just the opposite.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.