Reporter's Note: President Obama was called a most unkind name on a news show this week. I’m sure he’s been called worse, but as I note in today’s letter, there are still limits to what ought to be said in public.
Dear Mr. President,
I was distressed to hear this report of a former colleague of mine from years back calling you…well, not a nice name on TV. He’s a smart fellow who has lived and breathed politics for a long time, and I know that he knows better. I suspect it was one of those things that happens too much in my profession these days, with people trying to be “edgy” and “provocative” because they think that is what the public wants.
I get that. Look, I’ve always said that I want my reports to be as interesting and as intriguing as I can make them within the boundaries of 1) truth, 2) fairness, and 3) decency. Most of my colleagues, I suspect, have similar views, but sometimes they get carried away.
That said I’m not making excuses for them, because there really are no excuses for such behavior…especially when it comes to the presidency. Oh sure, people may hurl invectives at members of Congress, or Secretaries of Whatever, but the presidency is something special.
When we first moved to DC years ago, our daughters were surprised at their first exposure to the hyper-partisan world here. They would be playing at a friend’s house and hear a parent say something like, “This president is a lying, good for nothing, $#^&@*!!” These parents would actually say much more and much worse, but I won’t even write it here. Anyway, our girls came home confused and upset. Not because we were or were not fans of the president at the time, but rather because we had always assured them that decent people did not say such things about any president. We still believe that in our house.
I have great respect for the right of people to disagree - even vehemently - with any president. They can question his honesty, his integrity, his motives, even his morality; fair enough. But the office demands that such complaints come with respect. I try, even in casual conversation, never to refer to a president by just his last name. I always try to say “President Clinton,” or “President Bush,” or “Mr. Carter,” or “Mr. Reagan.” In a pinch, I may use his full name, like “Theodore Roosevelt.” It may seem hopelessly quaint to some, especially in these boisterous times, but respect for the office of the president is like basic manners - it is most essential when the times suggest it is least required.
After all, if we do not respect the office, why should we expect those who hold the job to respect it either?
So, Mr. President, I hope your holiday weekend is off to a good start. Please call if you have some time.
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