Known only as Hillary

Reporters, be they print or broadcast, usually adhere to strict word-use styles particularly when it involves identifying people in the news.

Print media, for instance, will report the person’s first and last name initially, then use just the last name of the individual in any subsequent reference. Broadcast media reporters and commentators are often heard using the person’s title each time they refer to them; e.g., President Obama, Vice President Biden, Gov. Perry, Speaker Boehner, etc.

News reports containing serious information involving public officials follow those style policies usually without fail.

But with one well-known public official, the media seem to take a different approach. She’s the former first lady, U.S. senator from New York, 2008 presidential candidate, U.S. secretary of state … and presumptive presidential candidate in 2016.

You know who I’m talking about: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Print media are good about sticking to style: “Hillary Clinton” in first references, “Clinton” in subsequent references; it’s commonly known as “AP style,” patterned after the guidelines and policies established by The Associated Press. Broadcast and cable network talking heads, though, treat her differently. Subsequent references quite often — almost always, near as I can tell — refer to her as simply “Hillary.”

Mention the name “Hillary” and everyone in America knows who we’re talking about.

All the various news talk shows throughout cable — MSNBC, Fox, CNN, CNN, HLN — produce heavyweight political panels. They usually comprise a combination of Democratic and Republican strategists, columnists and/or editors from big-city newspapers, online commentators and bloggers of all stripes. You go around the table and when the subject of Hillary Clinton comes up, they refer to her as, simply, “Hillary.”

Public television also falls into that trap more often than not, with panels lined up on, say, Washington Week in Review or the PBS NewsHour breaking with long-established journalism style. Good grief, I find myself referring to Secretary/Senator Clinton in the same first-name-only manner in casual conversation.

Let’s play this out for a moment.

Suppose she runs for president in 2016, which most serious observers think she’ll do. Suppose, as well, that she’s nominated that summer by the Democratic Party — and then goes on to win the presidential election in November 2016, becoming the first woman ever elected to the most powerful office on Planet Earth.

She’ll have a spouse — Bill Clinton — who’ll assume the role of first gentleman. Oh yes, he was president once, too. Remember? Maybe that’s why the broadcast and cable folks refer to the once-and-possibly-future presidential candidate as “Hillary,” to differentiate her from her husband.

Whatever the case, I’ll be waiting and watching the media — both print and broadcast — wrestle over the next few years with how to refer to someone they all seem to know so well.


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