Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Whence Cometh (or Goeth) Ghost Writers?

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Whence Cometh (or Goeth) Ghost Writers?

Article excerpt

Listening to NPR the other night, I heard an interview in which a man (I shall not name him) said he wrote the words delivered by Ronald Reagan: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" (We all know what happened. The Berliners tore down the wall themselves.) But did the guy who gave Reagan this famous sound-bite get any public attention? No. He merely got a paycheck from the GOP as one of a breed we call ghost writers, those behindthe-scenes, Machiavellian aphorists and word butchers.

Not all have been hacks. Many have been family members and/or close friends of the orators. I cannot help but think Martha Washington gave George a few suggested phrases while she served him tea as he wrote his Farewell Address to Congress.

Or Patrick Henry latching onto his "Give me liberty or give me death" slogan as possibly proposed by some nondescript secretary in the Virginia legislature. Or "All men are created equal," a tentative offering by Sally Hemmings as Thomas Jefferson puzzled over the Declaration of Independence. Or that general of the ragtag revolutionary troops at Bunker/Breeds Hill shouting: "Don't fire till you see the whites of their eyes," undoubtedly muttered previously by a nearby, nervous Minute Man.

Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln taking a few pointers from the conductor who took his ticket aboard the train that hustled Abe to his Gettysburg Address fame? Or William Jennings Bryan grabbing a surefire crowd-pleaser as he worked the faithful prior to his "You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold" corker.

The same goes for John Kennedy and his "Ask not..." utterance, as the originator of this winner slunk back into oblivion minus the slip of paper he had given to JFK at a rally. You have to feel this is how it happened. I most certainly do.

There is no Ghost-Writers Anonymous, but there ought to be. It gets creepy. I mean, for these people (not the Bushes) to get recognition is a rare thing, with the exception perhaps of Peggy Noonan. For the most part, these men and women are reclusive, one of the elements of their profession apparently, as they hone their flair for the catchy sentence. But does their paycheck make up for their lack of publicity? Have they no pride of authorship? It would seem they do not!

I am also wondering about pre-event preparation like the "Damn the torpedoes. …

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