To Require Authentic Authorship ... So, Senator, Is It True That You Yourself Butchered This Metaphor?

Article excerpt

Something revolutionary has happened on the opinion pages of The Spokesman-Review this year.

The first instance was on February 6, when a guest opinion promoting children's health care ran under the byline of a freshman state senator from our community. A few days later, another guest contribution, this one celebrating volunteers in a state literacy program, appeared under the byline of the state commissioner of employment security.

The historic significance was to be found in the endnotes, which informed readers that neither Senator Chris Marr nor Commissioner Karen Lee actually wrote the pieces that appeared under their names, not alone anyway. They had help from members of their respective staffs.

I doubt that readers consider it a big deal. But to people who are close to government and political institutions, a taboo was being violated.

It's true that prominent political figures often have insights worth sharing with readers of our editorial and op-ed pages. Although they don't have time to put those ideas on paper, they do have, as a current TV advertising campaign puts it, "people."

They assign staffers to translate their thoughts into words. The op-ed columns that result sometimes show up in The Spokesman-Review and other newspapers, the product of teamwork between the help and the boss. But according to long-established rules, the boss gets credit.

Remarkably, the two guest columnists mentioned above were willing to pull back the curtain and allow a peek at how the process works.

The Spokesman-Review's present policy regarding guest columns is pretty simple. "By" means "by." We expect columnists to express their opinions in their own words. If the writer had staff help, we'll grant the byline but explain the details in the endnote.

It's also an issue of fairness.

Every day, we in NCEW send e-mails back and forth across the country alerting one another to "turf" letters lifted from some Website. We reject those letters when we spot them, and sometimes we scold the plagiarists who sent them. What entitles influential public figures to the misrepresentation that most of us would charitably call ghost-writing? …