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How Scripps News refers to current and former presidents

Many called the Scripps News Viewer Hotline this week to ask about our guidance on how we refer to the current president and former presidents on air.
How Scripps News refers to current and former presidents
Posted at 12:22 PM, Nov 10, 2023

This was a big week for politics, with election results in state after state seen as a precursor of what's to come in 2024. So it may come as no surprise that our political coverage continues to be a major focus in calls made to our toll-free Scripps News Viewer Hotline.

Deanna said: "Is it disrespectful to call Donald Trump 'president' and he's not? And is it disrespectful to call Obama 'Obama' and never refer to him as president? Where are we with this? Because I see Scripps News continually calling Trump 'president' as if you're trying to put it in the minds of people that he's never left office."

SEE MORE: Viewers share story ideas and more on our Scripps News viewer hotline

We have very specific protocols on how we refer to the current president and former presidents on air. For example, a reference to President Biden always includes his title. It's never just "Biden" — as the current officeholder. 

In stories about former presidents, like Donald Trump and Barack Obama, there's a little more leeway. We use their title as "former president" on first reference, to show respect for the office they once held. But for brevity, we tell our journalists it's okay to use just their last name — "Trump" or "Obama" — on second and later references in the story.

However, in live news we sometimes slip up and might accidentally say "President Trump" or just "Biden." But ultimately, our policy is guided by a long-standing tradition that honors the office of the president — regardless of political party — and it's a practice that will continue, regardless of the current or former officer-holder we're referencing.

Also this week, the third Republican presidential debate made headlines. But some of you have shared your disappointment that we haven't aired any of the debates here on Scripps News. 

An anonymous caller from Ohio said: "I just cannot believe that you didn’t have the debates on … you’re just falling short." 

SEE MORE: Trump again skips GOP debate to hold nearby campaign rally instead

We've covered this in a prior Viewer Spotlight segment but we want to re-share why that often isn't possible for us to do. 

Contractually, only official media partners that are selected by the Republican National Committee are allowed to air the debates live and in full. It's a highly competitive process, with NBC News, Salem Radio Network, and the video platform Rumble being granted exclusive rights this time around. 

What we can do is report on what the candidates say during the debates, with our team providing insight and analysis on statements made by the candidates. However, if you miss us on TV, you can always find more reporting at our website

In the meantime, please keep those calls coming! Let us know how we’re doing — good or bad — anytime on our toll-free Scripps News Viewer Hotline at 1-833-4-SCRIPPS to lend your voice to the conversation.

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