According to the Associated Press, reporters must only use a Doctor title in front of a person in a medical field. Others with Doctorates should not be be referred to as a Doctor.
Before a name, use Dr. on first reference for a person who holds a doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of osteopathy, or doctor of podiatric medicine degree. For multiple people, use Drs. Do not continue the use of Dr. in subsequent references.
Care should be taken when referring to people with non-medical degrees as doctors; state the person’s specialty by the second reference (visit Know Your AP Style: Academic degrees).
This restriction by the media is a subtle way of giving more credence to the arguments of a health care practitioner than other well trained individuals.
Recently, I saw a medical doctor urging yet more total lockdowns in the country and espousing his view on the economics of lock downs (without a disclaimer that he was not an economist nor did he have any specific training in economics). The news report referred to him as Dr. <Smith> (using a pseudonym here).
If the article had been balanced (it was not), the reporter would have at least checked with an actual economist. If the reporter had done so, the reporter would have likely written “John Brown, an economist disagrees….”.
Thus the reader would have seen the argument presented as
Doctor Smith versus John Brown.
I wrote about this very issue used in a Wall Street Journal article earlier this year where the reporter pulled this stunt.
People see through stunts like this – where the news media intentionally and deliberately gives greater credence to a medical doctor – even when speaking on non medical subjects – versus other highly trained experts. Related: Media claims that a Doctor of Osteopathic medicine is not a real doctor.
In my view, Doctor refers to a person with a conferred Doctorate degree. For this reason I prefer to reference “Doctors” as physicians, dentists and so on, to be specific as to what they do.
The AP style guide is also applied very loosely. In the UK, “doctors” have a BS in Medicine or a BS in Surgery and are conferred an honorary doctor at graduation so they can use the Doctor title. Meanwhile, in the U.S. the AP long referred to Dr. Henry Kissinger even though he was never a medical doctor. The media is not run by the brightest of minds.