Sunday, May 31, 2009

Consistently Inconsistent

I contacted the Ombudsman regarding Scott Simon and the "Your Letters" feature on yesterday's Weekend Edition Saturday. Here's my letter, and I'll definitely post any response (in the unlikely event that there is one that is not a robo-response):

In the "Your Letters" portion of the program Scott Simon stated,

"We'd like to clarify an issue first. Many of you wrote in to complain that NPR news analyst Juan Williams and I referred to Dick Cheney as Vice President Cheney during our discussion last week. Several correspondents said that because Mr. Cheney is no longer in office, he should not be addressed by that title. Like many other media organizations, NPR treats titles like Vice President, President, or Senator as lifetime honorifics - that's why you'll hear us continue to call former elected officials by their titles like Justic O'Connor, President Clinton, and Vice President Cheney and the policy's applied uniformly regardless of political party or ideology."

This sounds like a statement of NPR policy and if so it clearly inaccurate and strikes me as unprofessional.

First NPR sometimes refers to former officials by name only (search Al Gore or Jimmy Carter in the NPR search bar for examples) without any reference to previous office.

Second, the suggestion that an elected office bestows a grant of "lifetime honorific" on a person is an arbitrary conclusion, and one which runs contrary to the spirit the US founders and of representative democracy .

Third, this usage can be confusing, whereas the use of "former _______ " makes perfect sense and is ironically used by Scott Simon during the same show in the piece on "Jailed American Journalists in N. Korea" where he refers to "former Vice President Al Gore."

Lastly, Simon cites "Justice O'Connor" as an example of "former elected officials" whereas Supreme Court justices are appointed - and to life terms at that!

How about if NPR simply uses the elected title when referring to actions carried out in the past while holding said office (e.g. President Reagan met with Mr. Gorbachev in Iceland, etc.), or refer to people as "former _______" when discussing them in the present regarding present activities (e.g. Former Vice President Cheney defended the practices in a speech.) Wouldn't that be simple and consistent?

Thanks for considering this. I would love to hear your opinion on the matter.

Matthew Murrey (Mytwords)
NPR Check


dguzman said...

BRILLIANT letter. Somehow, I fear it will be lost in the ether, like all those Chimpy Admin emails proving criminal activity of all sorts.

Porter Melmoth said...

Radio is such a flaky medium that misuse of language is one of the first things you can get away with.

That's one of the reasons why Angry White Middle-Aged Male Talk Radio is so successful. And why NPR is so influential.

biggerbox said...

They again referred to "former Vice President Al Gore" yesterday during a story about the two reporters being held in North Korea. So much for there being a consistent NPR style that would have kept Scott and Juan from referring to Cheney as "former".