Monday, July 20, 2009

Update on Lifetime Honorifics

At the end of May I posted about Scott Simon's troubling (and inaccurate) assertion about honoring US government officials with lifetime claims to the titles of offices they have held. About a week later I heard NPR refer to former Vice President Al Gore as "Al Gore" and sent the following letter to the ombudsman:
I contacted you over a week ago about Scott Simon claiming on May 30, 2009 Weekend Edition that "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 Justice O'Connor, President Clinton, and Vice President Cheney and the policy's applied uniformly regardless of political party or ideology."

I posted my inquiry on my blog ( and
I'm still awaiting a reply, but wanted to point out to you that as recently as this Monday (6-08-09) on Morning Edition during the story on the US journalists imprisoned in N. Korea, Renee Montagne said, "they were working for the cable channel Current TV - now Al Gore is the founder, one of the founders of that TV Channel" and Anthony Kuhn reported that the North Koreans might be interested in negotiating with "some current high ranking or retired US official, such as Al Gore."

It is striking that Gore is not even referred to as former Vice President - just plain old "Al." Seems to me that despite Simon's claim, there is quite a bit of regard for party and ideology.

Why not be consistent?

I await your response...still...

Surprisingly, a few days ago I received this response from the ombudsman's intern:
Dear Mr. Murrey;

Thank you for contacting NPR.

We appreciate your thoughts regarding NPR protocol in referencing former officials of the United States.

It is the policy of NPR to refer to former elected officials by their title, occasionally prefacing it with "former." In the programs you mentioned, it was oversight by the reporter and editor to not refer to Al Gore as Vice President Al Gore or former Vice President Al Gore. I will forward your findings to the appropriate department.

Thank you for listening, and for your continued support of public broadcasting. For the latest news and information, visit


Anna Tauzin
Office of the Ombudsman
Of course, we'll all be listening for more "oversights." Be that as it may, I followed up with the following response:

Dear Ms. Tauzin,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. Regarding NPR's general policy, I still strongly disagree with referring to former officials by their elected titles (unless referring to their actions as officials). It really runs contrary to US custom and law in which political office is not a lifetime appointment and where - at least in the ideal - one returns to the status of private citizen when one's term ends due to resignation, legal limits, election defeat or death. I hope you'll pass this concern on to NPR's policy department.

Matthew Murrey (Mytwords)
NPR Check


Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does anyone else get the impression that that is simply a form letter?

"It is the policy of NPR to refer to former elected officials by their title, occasionally prefacing it with "former." In the programs you mentioned, it was oversight by the reporter and editor to not refer to [insert name here] as insert title here]. I will forward your findings to the appropriate department."

Hey, but at least the Ombudsman's intern has the professionalism to respond (as she also did on Shepard's blog during the "Tortured Torture" saga , which is more than can be said for the ombudsman.

Maybe they will give Tauzin the job when Shepard's term expires in the fall . We can always hope.

Porter Melmoth said...

This exchange is yet another sign of NPR's cheap talk. If someone bothers to point out evidence of NPR's agendas leaking through (e.g. propaganda), they simply respond with 'oversight' language. Those are things anybody could say. But such a response from an 'influential' media outlet is pretty gutless. (Congrats, Myt, on your persistence.)

PS: CBS put on a pretty decent and dignified Cronkite tribute last night. No hagiography, just facts. Walter's contributions to NPR raised their reputation a notch, but NPR never seemed to value the old guy very much. They far prefer the more malleable offerings of Dan Schorr.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Schorr is "malleable" all right, to the point of "mush".

He reminds me of a schizophrenic having arguments with himself.


Myt, Myt, Myt, I warned you it's a plot! NPR is going out of its way to compel you to post, which will exacerbate(sp?) carpell tunnel.

It's all part of their plot.

(Back from Vacation. What did I miss?)

Checking the blog, same old NPR, same old Beltway B.S.