A bitter debate has been raging all week in the US about the incoming first lady, Dr Jill Biden – specifically, that title in front of her name.
A bitter debate has been raging all week in the US about the incoming first lady, Dr Jill Biden – specifically, that title in front of her name.

Week-long debate erupts over Dr Jill Biden’s title

A debate over something seemingly innocuous - the title in front of Dr Jill Biden's name - has stretched into its seventh day.

US media has been bickering about this for an entire week.

It started with an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal last Friday. Columnist Joseph Epstein said Dr Biden should drop the title because she's not a medical doctor.

The incoming first lady earned a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007, having spent most of her career as an English and writing teacher. She then became a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College.

She also holds a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees.

"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. Any chance you might drop the 'Dr' before your name?" Mr Epstein wrote.

"'Dr Jill Biden' sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students' Needs.

"A wise man once said that no one should call himself 'Dr' unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr Jill, and forthwith drop the doc."

The article sparked a backlash, much back-and-forth ensued, and hence we are still discussing it seven days later.

It also prompted a number of female academics to add the title to their own social media profiles, in a show of solidarity with Dr Biden.

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The angriest responses came from within the Biden transition team.

Michael LaRosa, Dr Biden's spokesman, called the piece "disgusting", "sexist" and a "repugnant display of chauvinism".

Joe Biden's communications director, Kate Bedingfield, labelled it "patronising, sexist, elitist drivel".

"Dr Biden earned a doctorate in education, so we call her doctor. The title Mr Epstein has earned here is perhaps not fit for mixed company," she said.

Dough Emhoff, who is the husband of vice president-elect Kamala Harris, said the article "would never have been written about a man".

Former first lady Michelle Obama posted a lengthy statement in support of Dr Biden on Instagram.

"Right now, we're all seeing what happens to so many professional women, whether their titles are Dr, Ms, Mrs, or even first lady. All too often, our accomplishments are met with scepticism, even derision," Mrs Obama said.

"We're doubted by those who choose the weakness of ridicule over the strength of respect. And yet somehow, their words can stick. After decades of work, we're forced to prove ourselves all over again."

Northwestern University, where Mr Epstein used to teach, issued a statement distancing itself from his views.

"While we firmly support academic freedom and freedom of expression, we do not agree with Mr Epstein's opinion and believe the designation of doctor is well deserved by anyone who has earned a Ph.D, an Ad.D, an M.D. or any other doctoral degree," it said.

"Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr Epstein's misogynistic views."

Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher, decided to chime in as well, noting that the word "doctor" comes from the Latin word "docere", which means "to teach".

And Dr Biden herself posted a tweet which, while not directed at Epstein, was clearly a response to his piece.

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That wasn't the end of it. The Journal's editorial page editor, Paul Gigot, published an article responding to the outrage and hitting back at the Biden transition team.

He acknowledged that the article had "triggered a flood of media and Twitter criticism".

"The complaints 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," Mr Gigot wrote.

"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. It's the left's version of Donald Trump's 'enemy of the people' tweets. The difference is that when Mr Trump rants against the press, the press mobilised in opposition.

"In this case, the Biden team was able to mobilise almost all of the press to join in denouncing Mr Epstein and The Journal."

He said the backlash was "overwrought" because Epstein's piece was clearly fair comment, whether you agreed with his view or not.

"If you disagree with Mr Epstein, fair enough. Write a letter or shout your objections on Twitter. But these pages aren't going to stop publishing provocative essays merely because they offend the new administration of the political censors in the media and academe."

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On Monday night, Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson told his viewers she was "a doctor of education, which means basically nothing".

"Jill Biden is not a doctor, no. Maybe in the same sense Dr Pepper is," he said.

Carlson continued the argument on his Wednesday night show, saying he had read Dr Biden's dissertation, and had come away unimpressed.

"Dr Jill needs reading glasses. Either that, or she's borderline illiterate," Carlson said.

"There are typos everywhere, including the first graph of the introduction. Dr Jill can't write. She can't really think clearly either.

"Parts of the dissertation seems to be written in a foreign language using English words. They're essentially pure nonsense, like pig Latin or dogs barking.

"The whole thing is just incredibly embarrassing. And not simply to poor illiterate Jill Biden, but to the college that considered this crap scholarship.

"Embarrassing, in fact, to our entire system of higher education, to the nation itself. Jill Biden's doctoral dissertation is our national shame."

He said the rest of the news media would not let people "point out that Jill Biden isn't really a doctor, may be not even very bright".

National Review writer Kyle Smith published an article yesterday titled: "Jill Biden's doctorate is garbage because her dissertation is garbage."

"Insisting on being called 'doctor' when you don't heal people is, among most holders of doctorates, seen as a gauche, silly, cringey ego trip," Smith said.

"Consider 'Dr' Jill Biden, who doesn't even hold a Ph.D. but rather a lesser Ed.D., something of a joke in the academic world."

He went on to describe Dr Biden's dissertation as "sloppy, poorly written, non-academic and barely fit for a middle school social studies classroom", suggesting the University of Delaware only accepted it because of its ties to her husband.

"Mrs Biden could have turned in a quarter-arsed excuse for a magazine article written at the level of Simple English Wikipedia and been heartily congratulated by the university for her towering mastery. Which is exactly what happened," he wrote.

"Jill Biden's dissertation is not an addition to the sum total of human knowledge. It is not a demonstration of expertise in its specific topic or its broad field. It is a gasping, wheezing, frail little Disney forest creature that begs you to notice the effort it makes to be the thing it is imitating while failing so pathetically that any witness to its ineptitude must feel compelled, out of manners alone, to drag it to the nearest podium and give it a participation trophy."

Originally published as Jill Biden mocked: 'Borderline illiterate'



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