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Mr. Obama, Mormons and Susan Stamberg's Paris Vacation

by Alicia C. Shepard
Jan 28, 2009

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Alicia C. Shepard

UPDATE on Mr. Obama 2-3-09
From Ron Elving, NPR's Senior Supervising Editor of the Washington Desk:

"NPR has used Mister as the alternative term of respect on second (and subsequent) reference to the President of the United States for decades. I personally have been Washington editor for three presidents and we have done it consistently through this time. Just as consistent have been the letters, phone calls and emails from people who do not believe what I just said. They insist we always called the previous president 'President So and So' on every reference and that our alleged failure to do so with the current president indicates disrespect.

It is difficult to convince people their memories are faulty, and even transcripts sometimes do not convince them. One nice thing about the digital age is that people can actually go on line, call up actual audio from earlier this month, or last month, and hear us saying Mr. Bush, which we did every day."

I will also add that while NPR says Mr. Obama on the second reference, it is equally common for NPR to use 'the president' on second reference. ACS

Today's post includes answers to 3 listener queries.

"During the early morning NPR newscast on January 26, 2009 and January 27, 2009, two of your reporters referred to our new President as 'Mr. Obama.' I was alarmed to hear your reporters refer to President Obama in that manner because in past years I did not hear any of your reporters refer to President Clinton and President Bush as 'Mr. Clinton' or 'Mr. Bush.' Frankly, I consider that your two reporters referring to our President as 'Mr. Obama' to be very disrespectful, whether or not they intended that reference to be disrespectful.

Respectfully yours,
Everette C. Rochon, Sr.
Col. U. S. Army, Ret.

Dear Col. Ronchon:
NPR is not being disrespectful to President Obama. They are following the NPR policy that dates back to President Gerald Ford. It's been NPR's practice —regardless of who is president — to use "President" in the first reference within any story and "Mr." in subsequent references. That was true for Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan and Carter. For example, NPR referred to President Bush and then the next time, the reporter said Mr. Bush.

You may disagree with the practice, but it is evenly applied no matter who controls the White House.


My question involves the amount of public funding, if any, for the public radio station in Rexburg Idaho run by BYU-Idaho. The reason is, it is the first public station I have heard that is at least 40% filled with religious items. In this case Mormon religious programming. Seems to me that if public funding is involved, then is that right? Thanks Lynn Houdyshell

Dear Ms. Houdyshell:
I found an answer to your concerns about KBYI in Rexburg, Idaho, and in the process I learned more about public radio, so thank you for your inquiry.

KBYI is a non-NPR member station in Rexburg, Idaho, licensed to Brigham Young University.

It might help to understand the relationship between NPR, public radio stations and the government. There are 800 or so public radio stations in the U.S. Many, but certainly not all, broadcast NPR programming. But to air it, they must pay for it.

NPR sells its programming to KBYI, even though it is not a member station, because it was determined that KBYI's overall programming is devoted to "programming of good quality for a general audience which serves demonstrated community needs," according to NPR's guidelines.

So NPR sells its programming to KBYI. But NPR itself does not provide public funding to KBYI or any other public radio station.

Public radio stations may apply for public funding from the government through the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. Stations use CPB funding, as well as the money they raise themselves from listeners and corporate underwriters, to buy NPR programming. But they are not required to use it for that purpose. Many use the federal funds for station operations or to produce their own programming, among other things.

If you have concerns about public funding going to KBYI, I would encourage you to contact the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Another listener called last month incensed about NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg's story on the winter solstice from Paris. Stamberg's story actually focused on how Paris celebrates the summer solstice on June 21, the first day of summer and longest day of the year. NPR ran her pre-recorded piece on the day of the winter solstice.

"Why am I paying for Susan Stamberg Paris' vacation when NPR is announcing layoffs?" asked a woman from Massachusetts over the phone.

Turns out, NPR did not finance Stamberg's Paris trip.

Here's what Stamberg told me via email: "I was in Paris in June on vacation — paid for transportation myself — and brought along my tape recorder just in case...I ALWAYS do this on vacation...I love to work, and on vacation, find it opens doors and experiences which I love sharing with listeners."

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