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Biden Team Response To Controversial Op-Ed 'Clearly A Political Strategy,' Editor Says

The incoming first lady was the subject of a <em>Wall Street Journal</em> opinion article suggesting she stop using the title "Dr." because she is not a physician. Biden received her doctorate in education in 2007.
Alex Wong
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The incoming first lady was the subject of a Wall Street Journal opinion article suggesting she stop using the title "Dr." because she is not a physician. Biden received her doctorate in education in 2007.

The editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page has waded into the fracas surrounding the paper's controversial decision to run an opinion piece on incoming first lady Jill Biden that was widely criticized as sexist and demeaning.

Paul Gigot, who is responsible for the paper's opinion section, defended the decision to run an op-ed published Friday by Joseph Epstein, who suggested that she should drop the "Dr." title she uses because her doctorate is not in the field of medicine.

Epstein broadened his criticism to include anyone using the title who is not a physician, and universities more generally for "the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards" when it comes to granting degrees.

Biden earned a doctorate in education, Ed.D., from the University of Delaware in 2007.

The opinion piece drew widespread condemnation from many women in academia, Biden supporters and members of the incoming administration on social media.

In his own opinion write-up Sunday titled "The Biden Team Strikes Back," Gigot writes that Biden supporters reacted in a "very Trumpian" way.

"The complaints (about the article) began as a trickle but became a torrent after the Biden media team elevated Mr. Epstein's work in what was clearly a political strategy," writes Gigot.

"Why go to such lengths to highlight a single op-ed on a relatively minor issue? My guess is that the Biden team concluded it was a chance to use the big gun of identity politics to send a message to critics as it prepares to take power. There's nothing like playing the race or gender card to stifle criticism," Gigot writes.

It was not just Biden surrogates he took issue with.

Gigot also pointed to the world of academia, particularly Northwestern University where Epstein, the original op-ed writer, taught for decades.

As NPR's Rachel Treisman writes, both the university and its English department condemned Epstein's comments as the backlash grew more intense. The university has since removed Epstein from its page of emeritus professors, according to Gigot.

"This is how cancel culture works," Gigot writes.

Epstein opens his piece by addressing the soon-to-be first lady in various ways, with the exception of "Dr. Jill Biden," referring to her use of the title as both "fraudulent" and "a touch comic."

"Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter," Epstein writes. "Any chance you might drop the 'Dr.' before your name?"

Some critics especially took issue with "kiddo," characterizing Epstein's choice of words as chauvinist and dismissive.

Gigot points to the 2012 Democratic National Convention where then-Vice President Joe Biden refers to his wife that very way as he tells an anecdote on how many times he proposed before she said yes.

"Five times. I don't know what I would have done, kiddo, had you on that fifth time said 'no,' " Biden said. "I love you. You're the love of my life and the life of my love."

Gigot vowed to continue to publish "provocative" opinion pieces and said that the incoming first lady is not a restricted subject.

"Mrs. Biden is now America's most prominent doctorate holder and is taking a leading role in education policy. She can't be off-limits for commentary," Gigot writes.

NPR follows The Associated Press 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."

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Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.