Washington Examiner White House Correspondent Susan Crabtree recently apologized after we reported that she had flouted briefing room convention by referring to President Obama simply as “Obama” during a recent White House daily briefing. While Crabtree insisted that it was an unintentional error, a review of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s briefing transcripts revealed that Crabtree was one of only two reporters to refer to the president as “Obama” without a first or second reference to “the president,” and both of them worked for conservative outlets.
This week, however, a White House reporter from an ostensibly neutral outlet committed the same mistake, referring to President Obama as “Obama” without a first, or even a second, reference to “President Obama” or “the president.” After a question that didn’t involve any references to President Obama, Reuters’ Julia Edwards asked Josh Earnest about the impending court decision on deferred action:
“I also wanted to see if you could respond to where Obama’s executive action on immigration now stands in the courts. And on Friday, a federal appeals court heard two and a half hours of debate on this and it’s still unclear whether or not they’ll grant a stay to lift the previous injunction. If the administration has to wait for the appeals process to play out, that could take months. Is there any concern that the launch of the executive action could almost push to the end of the presidency?”
In Edwards’ case, it was only a single reference, whereas Crabtree did it four times in a single exchange, but this isn’t Edwards’ first brush with informality. As we noted in our first reporting on this topic, Edwards also referred to President Obama as “Obama” four times during a November briefing, but did manage to throw in a second reference to “the president”:
Will Obama be responding to the comments that Boehner made yesterday on immigration that he’d be poisoning the well? And will that in any way urge the president to maybe budge a little bit on his timeline for executive action?
… In other words, Obama isn’t taking any hope and possibly moving off this timeline? I know there were reports there were even discussions this summer between Boehner and Obama that broke down over immigration. And now the Republicans have taken back Congress, there’s some talks about what they would do if Obama expanded work permits…
The second reference doesn’t actually make it all okay, and even an “Obama” after a first reference (the preferred written style of most news organizations) is exceedingly rare in the Brady Briefing Room, where the overwhelmingly preferred nomenclature is “the president.”
As you can see, Edwards also dropped Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) honorific during this exchange, so this is likely an indication of a broader tendency toward informality, and since Julia Edwards is not from a conservative outlet, where a news culture steeped in disrespect for President Obama might seep in, she’s likely to get a benefit of the doubt that Crabtree did not.
In any case, though, these lapses do not escape notice within the White House, where respect for the office is not some matter of taste, it is a fundamental fact of life. There aren’t a lot of limits on what goes on there, but this one ought to be easy to stick to.