Study: NY Times Calls Jill Biden 'Dr.' Much More Often Than Ben Carson

R.J. Lehmann at the R Street Institute tried a little searching on the Nexis news database and discovered that Jill Biden is more than three times more likely to be called “Dr.” by The New York Times as Ben Carson is!

Through last night, Nexis results show Ben Carson’s name has appeared in The New York Times 373 times: 356 times as Ben Carson and 17 times as Benjamin Carson. On first reference (that is, the first time he is named in the story) he has been referred to as “Dr. Ben Carson” or “Dr. Benjamin Carson” 32 times, plus an additional 13 times on second reference. He’s been called “Mr. Carson” on second reference 57 times.

By contrast, Jill Biden’s name has appeared 61 times. Seven of those times, she was referred to as “Dr. Jill Biden” on first reference and another seven times on second reference. Only twice has she been called “Mrs. Biden” on second reference. (The Times has never referred to her as “Ms. Biden,” so it isn’t simply a matter of preferring a less patriarchal terminology.)

Comparing those head-to-head, Ben Carson has been called “Dr.” in 12.1 percent of the Times stories in which his name appears. Jill Biden has been called “Dr.” in 23.0 percent of the stories in which her name appears. Ben Carson has been called “Mr. Carson” in 15.3 percent of the stories in which his name appears. Jill Biden is called “Mrs. Biden” in just 3.3 percent of the stories in which her name appears.

The contrast is even starker on New York Times blogs, which are more informal and thus should have less need for honorifics at all. Jill Biden’s name has appeared on Times blogs 58 times. She’s been called “Dr.” on first reference 28 times and then once more on second reference. She’s been called “Mrs. Biden” on second reference four other times.

Ben Carson’s name has appeared in Times blogs 191 times (five of them as “Benjamin Carson”). He’s been called “Dr.” on first reference 11 times and on second reference six other times. He’s been called “Mr. Carson” on second reference 66 times – including, most puzzlingly, twice when he was separately referred to as “Dr. Ben Carson.”

Thus, head-to-head, we see that Times blogs refer to Jill Biden as “Dr.” nearly half the time (48.3 percent) while referring to Ben Carson as “Dr.” just 8.9 percent of the time. She is called “Mrs. Biden” just 6.9 percent of the time, while he is called “Mr. Carson” 34.7 percent of the time....

So there it is. Biden is three and a half times more likely to be called "Dr." on first reference and twice as likely to be called "Dr." on second reference as Ben Carson. Carson is four and a half times more likely to be called "Mr." as Biden is to be called "Mrs."

The simple - and, no doubt, at least partially accurate - explanation for these findings is political bias on the part of the notoriously liberal New York Times. A more sinister explanation could be inferred that Carson's race played a role. Is there any other potential explanation?

One explanation is that Dr. Jill Biden has been very explicit with the media that she wants that Dr. honorific, expects it. Lehmann noted this was contrary to the AP Stylebook:

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: Dr. Jonas Salk....

If appropriate in the context, Dr. also may be used on first reference before the names of individuals who hold other types of doctoral degrees. However, because the public frequently identifies Dr. only with physicians, care should be taken to ensure that the individual’s specialty is stated in first or second reference.  

But that’s not as relevant as the New York Times style guide:

Dr. should be used in all references for physicians and dentists whose practice is their primary current occupation, or who work in a closely related field, like medical writing, research or pharmaceutical manufacturing: Dr. Alex E. Baranek; Dr. Baranek; the doctor. (Those who practice only incidentally, or not at all, should be called Mr., Ms., Miss or Mrs.)

Anyone else with an earned doctorate, like a Ph.D. degree, may request the title, but only if it is germane to the holder’s primary current occupation (academic, for example, or laboratory research). For a Ph.D., the title should appear only in second and later references.

Here’s the final boom:

Incidentally, our prior second lady, Lynne Cheney, holds a Ph.D. in British literature from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. By my count, her name has appeared in The New York Times or its blogs 293 times. She has been identified as “Dr.,” on either first or second reference, exactly zero times.

Tim Graham's picture


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