I used to be a news reporter. It was a very long time ago, but I still remember everything I learned in journalism school. I think I had “The Elements of Style” memorized. You spell out the numbers from one to nine, but anything after 10 you use numerals. (The witness reported seeing three men herding 7,000 chickens out the door). The word “over” does not mean “more than.” It still grates on my nerves when I hear someone on television say “The jury deliberated for over six hours today.” When referring to a person in a news story, use his or her full name on the first mention and by the last name afterwards.
If you read this blog on a regular basis, you may have noticed that when I talk about someone in the news, I usually refer to that person by his or her last name, with a prefix, like Mr., or Ms. I prefer “Mr. Jones told police he was in Montreal at the time,” as opposed to “Jones told police he was in Montreal at the time.” I was taught to just use the last name, but I think using Mr. or Ms. sounds more respectful.
It’s against the rules to refer to anybody by their first name, unless you’re quoting someone. But I make an exception to this rule for the rich and famous, people who make a living by being the center of attention. I'm talking about those fortunate few who are so adored that they can consider themselves on a first name basis with the world. Like Liza, or Oprah or Madonna or Michael (Jackson). Everyone else should have the dignity of their last name.
One of the most irritating aspects of the Terri Schiavo debacle was that everyone from Tom Delay to Mel Gibson to the nutjobs gathered outside her Florida hospice called her Terri. Like they knew here. At that point, she’d been severely brain damaged for 15 years and she didn’t know anybody. Suddenly everyone with a stake on either side of the issue was on a first name basis with her.
That’s just wrong. By calling a brain dead woman by her first name, you are claiming an intimacy that you have no right to claim. Her parents could call her Terri. Her husband could call her Terri. Possibly the nurses could call her Terri, since caring for her brought about a special kind of intimacy. But everyone else, and that includes Tom Delay and Mel Gibson and the previously mentioned nutjobs, needed to ask her permission if they wanted to call her by her first name. Ms. Schiavo was no longer able to grant anyone that privilege, so it's officially denied to all of you.
Show the woman, and everyone else for that matter, a little respect.