The professional title kerfuffle

What’s the proper way to refer to a professional woman in a political campaign?

That has become an issue for debate in the race for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts where incumbent Scott Brown is facing Elizabeth Warren.

Boston Herald reporter Christine McConville raises the question after she attended a Warren rally this week. The Herald is the conservative alternative to the more liberal Boston Globe, just for the record.

“I want to go to Washington as a U.S. senator, to support all women, all the time,” Warren told the roaring crowd.

That’s when I raised my hand, with a question for Warren. What, I planned to ask her, matters more to today’s female voters: the economy or abortion and contraceptive rights?

“Professor,” I said, and the crowd started to hiss.

“Elizabeth,” she replied.

But, of course, as a reporter, I’d never call her that. We’re not friends, and she’s an accomplished public person who deserves respect. I don’t call Scott Brown “Scott,” I always used “Mr. Baker” when I interviewed gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker a few years ago, and I don’t want to think what would happen if I addressed Boston’s mayor as “Tom.”

“Why did you call her that?” one furious supporter sneered, when three of them confronted me afterward. “That’s so demeaning.”

Warren is a law professor at Harvard.

There was a way to get around the issue: Just ask the question without any reference to a title. Reporters do that all the time.