“Former” First Lady? Is that right?

Just sort of noticed in passing that that release I posted yesterday about Jenny Sanford referred to her as the “former first lady.” And now I suddenly notice (gotta tell you, I don’t exactly devour most stories that have her in the headline), that’s the standard in news stories about her. Such as this.

Huh. I wonder — is that right? And if so, when did it happen? Automatically when she got her divorce? (It was flatly stated here, but who was the authority?) And if so, based on what rule or precedent? Who’s the arbiter, or the keeper of the style? Is there a written protocol rule, anywhere, on this?

Did someone just assume, and others followed suit? Maybe if I were still at the newspaper, I would have seen the memo. But I never saw a memo. I wonder if there was one. (Now watch: Like the guy in “Office Space,” I’ll get eight copies of it.)

It might be a small thing to you, but only if you’ve never been a professional journalist. Journalists have extensive debates about things like this. They form committees. They set rules. (We can be pretty ridiculous about it, something that is easy to parody.) Somewhere, someone has done that. And did they rule correctly?

I mean, isn’t she the first lady if she is still performing the duties of first lady, which last I heard she was? It’s not like anyone else is the first lady? Or is that the way we settle the issue of what to call That Other Woman?

9 thoughts on ““Former” First Lady? Is that right?

  1. Lynn

    Although it can be argued that Mark Sanford is in office only by virtue of Jenny Sanford’s campaign skills, it is nevertheless true that she wasn’t elected, has held no office, and has had an official relationship to SC state government only because of her marriage. The marriage is over. Therefore it seems to me that she can no longer be First Lady. If she is still carrying out some of those responsibilities, she might be called Gov. Sanford’s official hostess at the Governor’s Mansion. In any case, I do wish they would both go away.

  2. Matt

    I thought about the same thing to. What I came up with was that she became “former first lady” the second the divorce was finalized. I think the only thing that makes you “first lady” is the fact that you happen to be currently married to a current head of state. What you decide to do or do not do “duty-wise” doesn’t decide it.

  3. Pat

    She is former. The only reason she is doing any “duties” is that she was invited. Agree with Lynn and Michael P. Well, and Matt and Jamie, too.

  4. Rob Evans

    “It might be a small thing to you, but only if you’ve never been a professional journalist. Journalists have extensive debates about things like this.”

    This explains a lot, actually.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    Brad–Are you suggesting that she is the First Lady “until her successor shall have been duly married and qualified”?

  6. Ralph Hightower

    I’m wondering when Maria Belen Chapur is going to move into the Governor’s Mansion.

  7. Elizabeth

    Go away, Jenny. We don’t like you very much, and we certainly do not want you as First Lady. Um, I think she is technically not a First Lady. Not married to the governor, therefore, no standing. Seems selfish to try to resume duties that are no longer yours to do.

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