What's the proper way to refer to a professional woman in a political campaign?
That has become an issue for debate in the race for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts where incumbent Scott Brown is facing Elizabeth Warren.
Boston Herald reporter Christine McConville raises the question after she attended a Warren rally this week. The Herald is the conservative alternative to the more liberal Boston Globe, just for the record.
"I want to go to Washington as a U.S. senator, to support all women, all the time," Warren told the roaring crowd.
That's when I raised my hand, with a question for Warren. What, I planned to ask her, matters more to today's female voters: the economy or abortion and contraceptive rights?
"Professor," I said, and the crowd started to hiss.
"Elizabeth," she replied.
But, of course, as a reporter, I'd never call her that. We're not friends, and she's an accomplished public person who deserves respect. I don't call Scott Brown "Scott," I always used "Mr. Baker" when I interviewed gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker a few years ago, and I don't want to think what would happen if I addressed Boston's mayor as "Tom."
"Why did you call her that?" one furious supporter sneered, when three of them confronted me afterward. "That's so demeaning."
Warren is a law professor at Harvard.
There was a way to get around the issue: Just ask the question without any reference to a title. Reporters do that all the time.
I've never heard a reporter here address a legislator or governor by his or her first name. Ever.
What am I missing? I guess I kinda understand why she would not want to be called Professor - maybe it sounds too elitist to some people's ears. But why is it demeaning?
I have been told in that 'formal' role (press asking a question) you address them with their 'highest' title earned - or current title.
The only person that might be an issue with would have is William Howard Taft. Do you call him President Taft (Mr President) or Chief Justice Taft? He was Chief Justice on his death so not sure.
Why some Warren supporters think “Professor” was demeaning ---the Gilligan’s Island Effect.
Dude could make a radio out of coconuts + bamboo, but couldn’t make a simple raft.
I wouldn't call her "Professor" outside an academic setting or other arena in which she is appearing as an academic expert-- it's a situational honorific. I'd call her "Dr." or "Ms.", depending on her degree. And I'm a proponent of the "if you're not sure, skip the direct reference" idea.
But demeaning? There's got to be a huge chunk of context missing there. Did the supporters think it minimized her roles outside academia? Something related to her campaign or Brown's? Woke up on the wrong side of the bed?
This is about dog whistles. There's nothing wrong with addressing a college professor as "Professor _____," except in this case you have a vast rightwing Wurlitizer where literally hundreds of pundits routinely drip venom when they say words like professor (or "elite" or "liberal').
For almost a decade lefty bloggers like myself screamed at the media to take note of the eliminationist rhetoric coming from the right. When your political opponents address you with the same scorn they reserve for our nation's enemies, we have a problem. Talk radio and Fox routinely excoriate liberals by saying we're unAmerican.
Warren should learn to live with the "Professor" label, but those same questioners should feel obliged to occasionally ask questions like, "Professor Warren, many on the right ridicule your academic qualifications. What would you like to say to those who do this?"
// m President Taft (Mr President) or Chief Justice Taft? He was Chief Justice on his death so not sure.
Well, he's dead so the issue wouldn't come up in terms of how to address him.
But when he still has the gig, you'd address him by the current gig. So Walter Mondale, as I recall, was Mr. Ambassador while he had the job, but upon retirement became "Mr. Vice President." I think. I recall the newsroom having an ongoing debate on this.
We certainly didn't refer to him -- and wouldn't today -- as "Walter."
It seems to me the reporter is playing the faux naïf just a little bit, because there is an unfortunate Aristophaneic disdain by part of the voting public for those they perceive to be cloud dwellers. And, intentional or not, by quoting a group of women who were being overly dramatic in their use of the word "demeaning", the article simultaneously reinforces a negative female stereotype and associates it with Warren. It sounds like Warren herself was trying to find a middle ground between this group of supporters and the reporter by offering her first name as a one-off solution to an awkward moment.
Context - Her opponent is trying to use the term Professor as a pejorative, as a snooty Harvard know-it-all out of touch with the MA regulars. That a right leaning news outlet would use it "innocently" causes the jeers and hisses.
// cloud dwellers
// faux naïf
// overly dramatic
- and the one bob pointed out.
Can I call purple prose? And not in the good way.
I still can't figure out 'cloud dwellers': People who fly in airplanes maybe, elitists maybe. I don't know.
Sorry, it was unguarded jotting on my smart phone and I made an incorrect assumption about the audience. Aristophanes was a playwright of ancient Greece who wrote a play called The Clouds. The play was an anti-intellectual reaction to the advances of the time. It maligned Socrates for corrupting his students in a school mockingly called the “thinkery”, a place where people were out of touch.
Faux naïf means a person who pretends to be naive in order to draw another into a certain reaction, it is often used as a journalistic style.
Also, I would not say purple; maybe recondite, but only for those who have not read the classics and speak no French.
I kind of think this writer was fabricating some things or leaving out some context in order to make a point. It makes no sense otherwise.
I'm pretty sure Craig's last comment was the best comment I've ever read. But now I have to clean up the beer that came flying out my nose. :*)
This brought up one of the great cringe-worthy memories of my life. I was soing the morning show on a radio station in Northern MN and we had an interview with Congressman Jim Oberstar. It was a phone interview and at one point during the interview I lapsed into calling him "Jim" at least once. I was 20-something at the time and I probably thought I was Charles Kuralt or something addressing a political leader as if he were an old friend. But even then I instantly know that I said the wrong thing, but on reflection I really shake my head at my younger self. Oberstar, for his part, was professional and completely unruffled by the question. It is me (and I'm sure the audience) who were embarrassed by my gaffe.
I agree with Bob, Craig your comments are fun.
I want to hear more from Craig- he's awesome!