Alicia C. Shepard
Rahm Emanuel is a man whose name bedevils news organizations.
Of course, he is President Obama's two-fisted chief of staff. So, when he's quoted or mentioned on radio, TV, or print, reporters and anchors generally identify him on first reference as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
But for some reason — most likely his unusual first name — news organizations are conflicted on how to identify Emanuel on the second reference. Standard news editorial practice across the board is to give a person's full name on first reference and only the last name on second reference.
But not for Emanuel.
Oddly, several news organizations refer to him on a second reference as "Rahm Emanuel." NPR has just decided to make that a policy after correspondent Nina Totenberg referred to Emanuel three times by his first name only on-air.
Here's what Totenberg said on All Things Considered Nov. 13 in an interview with host Michele Norris about the announcement that White House counsel Gregory Craig was leaving the post. Totenberg first mentioned that Craig's status had been the subject of numerous White House leaks, which she attributed to Rahm Emmanuel (using his full name), then added:
"Was it Rahm not wanting to have another power center? Was it their personalities? Was it Rahm seeing the GITMO stuff as a distraction from the president's agenda? You know, these are very different animals. Rahm is someone who above all else, sees his job as winning. And Greg Craig has some very passionately held views on human rights and foreign policy and there was a conflict."
(Totenberg also never gave Emanuel's title so some listeners may have wondered who 'Rahm' was.)
When I asked her about this seemingly familiar reference to Emanuel, Totenberg said, "In Washington, and elsewhere, Rahm is known as Rahm , not because I know him, which I don't." (Though she says she has met him.)
The use of only Emanuel's first name concerned former reporter and editor, Bill Choyke, who used to cover the Supreme Court years ago with Totenberg.
"Just finished listening to Nina's story on the departure of Gregory Craig, and I was taken aback by her repeated reference to Rahm rather than the last name of the White House chief of staff," wrote Choyke. "Is this accepted referencing by NPR? I could not tell whether it was intended to portray the reporter as an insider or as a sign of disrespect to the chief of staff. Either way, it was not the way that I recall how impartial reporting should be done."
Choyke is right. NPR's senior vice president for news, Ellen Weiss, said it was a mistake — and not NPR's style — for Totenberg to refer to Emanuel only by his first name.
"While this is a breach of style rules," said Ron Elving, NPR's Washington editor in an email, "it's understandable that in an unscripted two-way conversation, any reporter would refer to 'Rahm' rather than Emanuel. I realize it sounds chummy and that's why it's not our style (exceptions made for a handful of entertainers and sports figures such as A-Rod or Kareem or Magic).
"But Nina, who is not social friends with Rahm Emanuel, is like anyone — she uses the name that someone is recognized by," continued Elving. "And no one, absolutely no one, refers to Rahm Emanuel as Emanuel, or Mr. Emanuel, or Chief of Staff Emanuel. Therefore our style for him will have to be Rahm Emanuel, both names on first reference and second reference."
I checked around and with the help of NPR's librarian Janel White, we discovered that Emanuel may be the news business' exception to the rule on second references.
Here's the breakdown on how Emanuel is identified on other news outlets on the second reference:
CNN — alternates between full name and Mr. Emanuel
Fox News — full name
MSNBC — alternates between full name and Mr. Emanuel
NBC — alternates between full name and Mr. Emanuel
ABC — Emanuel
CBS — Emanuel
PBS — full name
Washington Post — Emanuel
New York Times — Mr. Emanuel
If it were up to me, NPR would not have a special rule for Emanuel (he'd just be Emanuel) — as it does for U.S. presidents.
Almost every day some astute listener's ears perk up when someone from NPR refers to the president on second reference as Mr. Obama. Many call and say that it's disrespectful to use "mister" and that NPR would never have said Mr. Bush on second reference for the previous president.
But in fact, NPR journalists did. It's been NPR's style since the mid 1970s to refer to the president of the United States as President X on the first reference and Mr. X or "the president" on the second reference.