Some people are sensitive about their titles. Some are sensitive on behalf of others who are sensitive, which might help explain the hysterical response of some liberals to a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which contributing writer, Joseph Epstein, argued that soon-to-be first lady, Jill Biden, should drop her “doctor” title.

As an aside, liberals don’t have the market cornered on hysterical responses. (See President Joe Biden = Apocalypse)

Regarding the issue at hand, among other things, Epstein said Biden’s “doctor” title “feels fraudulent,” pointing out that Biden is not a medical doctor. She holds a Ph.D. in education from the University of Delaware. (Go, Blue Hens.)

“Fraudulent” might be a bit strong. It’s not as if she’s Kramer’s (Seinfeld) Dr. Van Nostrand, “a Julliard-trained dermatologist.” Still, it seems the blowback toward Epstein, the left’s new Hitler, is also a bit much. The op-ed was called “sexist” and “misogynistic.” There have been calls for the resignation of the WSJ opinion page editor. Please.

Some of the loudest cries of injustice were from members of the credentialed media – Washington Post, CNN, New York Times and so on.

Righteous indignation from the media is certainly nothing new, but it’s somewhat surprising in this case. Here’s why.

Virtually all media outlets in the country subscribe to and abide by the Associated Press Stylebook which has been around for more than a century. It’s basically THE style and usage guide for journalists. There are rules for just about everything.

I decided to check with the stylebook about this “doctor” business. Is there, in fact, a rule? I’m glad you asked because there is.

“Use Dr. in first reference as a formal title before the name of an individual who holds a doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of optometry, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of podiatric medicine, or doctor of veterinary medicine,” according to the stylebook.

There’s more.

“Do not use Dr. before the names of individuals who hold other types of doctoral degrees.”

So, AP style aligns with Epstein. Jill Biden should be referred to as “Jill Biden” by the media unless of course someone is going to declare the rule misogynistic and change it.

I worked for the opinion page of a newspaper and we abided by this rule. Every once in a while, we’d receive a contributing piece from a writer with a Ph.D. who referred to himself as “doctor” and wanted “Dr.” in his byline. We wouldn’t do it unless the person’s title was relevant to the subject matter about which he was writing – a psychologist writing about PTSD, for example.

By way of background, I happen to be married to a medical doctor; internal medicine. My wife doesn’t introduce herself to anyone as “doctor.” She doesn’t sign “Dr.” on her checks or anything else. In fact, unless you know her, or see her intervene in an emergency – she once saved someone from an overdose while on an airplane – you wouldn’t know she’s a physician. Thus, I have a difficult time referring to anyone as “Dr.” who can’t write a prescription. Plus, I’m around Ph.D.s all day and not one has ever introduced himself or herself to me as “doctor.”

Still, in Jill Biden’s defense, there are plenty of folks out there who aren’t medical doctors calling themselves “doctor” – Dr. Phil, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Who, Dr. J, Doc Severinsen, Dr. Seuss, to name a few.

On the other hand, you might be surprised to learn of a few who sound like frauds but are legit. The gunslinger, Doc Holliday, for example, was a dentist. Doc Marten, inventor of clunky footwear, was a physician, Dr. Oz is a bona fide heart surgeon, though he’s more known for his daytime TV show and kooky wellness advice. While we’re at it, does Dr. Oz really need to wear scrubs on his show? We know he didn’t perform a bypass in the green room. Who is he trying to convince? The audience or himself? Based on the stuff he’s been peddling on his show, if I needed my mitral valve repaired, I’d sooner see Dr. J.

Nevertheless, Jill Biden decides what to call herself. Journalists, in the meantime, should stick to the rules which, by the way, they made.

I suppose the rest of us should address others as they want to be addressed. Me? I’m not picky. Of course, when you receive emails that begin, “Dear Moron,” the bar isn’t terribly high.

Rich Manieri is a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at [email protected]

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