Skip to main content

White House Reporter Apologizes For Calling President Obama By Last Name At Briefing

Turns out what looked like a show of disrespect from a conservative reporter was just an unintentional error by a very experienced journalist who happens to work at a conservative outlet.

Earlier this week, we reported on Washington Examiner White House Correspondent Susan Crabtree's lapse in briefing room decorum, as she referred to President Obama simply as "Obama" four times during an exchange with Press Secretary Josh Earnest. After a day and a half of intense social media reaction to the story. Crabtree responded Thursday by expressing regret over the lapse, but defending her credentials as a non-partisan reporter.

In case you missed it, Correspondent Crabtree waded into Tuesday's White House daily briefing with several questions of keen interest to The Washington Examiner's readers, including one in which she tied President Obama's remarks at sundry prayer breakfasts with ISIS beheadings and a vacant diplomatic post, all while referring to the president simply as "Obama":

The jarring exchange prompted me to analyze all of Earnest's briefing transcripts to see if this is as rare an occurrence as it seemed to be, and that review confirmed that not only do reporters not ever call President Obama "Obama" during briefings, they almost always refer to him as "the president." There was only one other reporter (Francesca Chambers) who called him "Obama" without also referencing "the president," and she only did it once. Correspondent Crabtree did it four times.

On Thursday night, Correspondent Crabtree addressed the controversy via Twitter, explaining that she "didn't mean any disrespect" to President Obama, and apologizing profusely. Before I get to her apology and our exchange, I'd just like to note that whether it was intentional or not, reporters are affected by the news culture at the outlets they work for, so even taking Correspondent Crabtree at her word, the leanings of The Washington Examiner could still be a factor.

It's also possible for a non-partisan reporter to play to a partisan audience, which the exchange in question certainly appears to do.  You can judge Correspondent Crabtree's explanation for yourselves. I'll buy it was unintentional for a nickel, no more, but I know playing to the bleachers when I see it.

Finally, I mentioned it on Twitter, but it bears repeating here: far too many of the responses to this story included personal attacks and some seriously misogynistic name-calling. Not only is this wholly unacceptable, it is self-defeating. How you can fit "She should respect the President" and "What a bitch" into the same thought is beyond me.

Whatever you think, though, Susan Crabtree deserves a measure of credit for apologizing, and for her willingness to engage in a discussion this critical of her. Most journalists won't.

With that said, here's Susan Crabtree's apology, along with our followup conversation, in which Republican lobbyist Gregg Hartley helpfully came to her defense, so that was nice. :