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Writing Versus Sticking Your Name On Somebody Else's Work

Here I am the day after my deadline. (The red hair comes back on Wednesday, and the arm generally grows back by Thursday afternoon.)

Andrew Sullivan, via Julian, has a great point, wondering how many syndicated columnists actually write their own stuff, and how many people actually consider that they might not. I do, for one...personally bleed through the eyeballs every week (ie, write my column). Quite frankly, Albert Einstein could come back to life, knock on my door, and ask me out to dinner on a Monday night and I'd turn him down. (Anybody but Lena or Gregg is unlikely to even motivate me to get up out of my chair and greet them at the gate.)

Sullivan says:

Julian wonders whether non-Beltway insiders understand that most prominent people have ghostwriters penning "their" op-eds, books, etc., and whether there should be more outrage over this quasi-dishonesty. For my part, it's never bothered me that a Times op-ed by, say, a U.S. Senator or the Secretary of Health and Human Services probably wasn't written by the eminence themself - but I was shocked to find myself, during my first year in D.C., being introduced to a guy who ghostwrote for a syndicated columnist. I'm not sure what the difference is, exactly - I suppose there's just something about a regular byline that made me assume, foolishly, that the "author" was writing the thing by himself.

This has been a Gregg Easterbrook pet peeve for many years, incidentally - though he tends to focus on praising celebrities and pols who credit their ghostwriters (like John McCain), and pillorying those who don't (like Hillary Clinton, on both It Takes a Village and Living History).

I've heard rumors of two others who have a room full of writers churning out "their" stuff, but without direct knowledge, I won't name names. As for another columnist, whose work now appears to make a bit more sense and be a bit less inane...well, I have my suspicions. Anything to maintain a money-making franchise, I guess!

Posted by aalkon at December 28, 2005 9:12 AM

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There are times when I wished I could assign my favorite topics to a staff of writers: I'd have quite a few more editorials on DOGSPOT, for people who no longer trust the printed word, and use the newspaper for training their puppies. I'd at least have the decency to admit when a story was a group effort, which has not been the case among some of our most (in)famous columnists. It's more than just a rumor, Amy:

"I've heard rumors of two others who have a room full of writers churning out "their" stuff, but without direct knowledge, I won't name names.

James Reston, , of the New York Times, won 2 Pulitzers during his lifetime, and his staff of occasional writers consisted of Yale graduates at an office in Langley, VA.

I have photographic proof on my website - aquired from an archive at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The "speculative stories without attribution" were already be planted while Truman was president.

.....a self healing barbie doll? or do you play doctor:)


Posted by: dave roknich at December 28, 2005 1:51 PM

oops the URL for the story I cited got truncated, so here's another try:

NYT Undermined by CIA

Posted by: dave at December 28, 2005 1:55 PM

Yes, that's me...a self-healing Barbie doll. It always amazes me when women find remarks like that insulting. I like to think of myself as an intelli-bimbo, and I can only hope other people see me that way, too.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 28, 2005 2:28 PM

Well, here's something you can check for yourself: pick up a copy of any of the "Op Center" series of "thrillers" with Tom Clancy's name on it. Open it to any page and read one paragraph.

It's obviously not Tom Clancy doing the writing, as an author's style is as clear a signal as a facial expression.

Posted by: Radwaste at December 29, 2005 2:26 AM

I assumed you were talking about George Will, whose columns often come off like exquisite corpse games between his grad-student research assistants: "Give me two William of Oranges and a Trafalgar, and I'll pretend it's about Medicare."

Posted by: Crid at December 30, 2005 1:36 AM

Also, "intelli-bimbo" is a wonderful meme

Posted by: Crid at December 30, 2005 1:39 AM

I wasn't talking about George Will, but I would just love it if some disgruntled writer named names!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 30, 2005 6:10 AM

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