My first job out of college was not at a specific news agency but at a syndicate – we had a stable of (mostly conservative, white, old, male) op-ed writers who would turn in columns to us, and we’d edit them and distribute them to the newspapers across the country that published them each week.
It took me longer than I’d like to admit to realize that the assistants who were turning in the columns and addressing my edits each week were often the ones actually writing them.
The light bulb finally turned on in one particularly egregious incident involving a well-known conservative commentator – for privacy’s sake let’s call him Shmoliver Shmorth – when the second half of that week’s column devolved into several paragraphs of effusive praise for his assistant’s new book.
I bring this up because of all the crazy revelations in the SANDAG investigation (more on that below) there was also a good reminder that many politicians don’t write the op-ed pieces to which their names are attached.
The report includes this explanation of an op-ed written by Ron Roberts, board chairman of SANDAG, that Voice of San Diego published in January:
When asked about the editorial, Roberts said that he took full responsibility for the final draft, but did not write the original and had no personal knowledge of the details. David Hicks, Communications Manager at SANDAG, wrote the original draft of the editorial, and said that, in doing so, he had researched what happened with the Measure A forecasting error.
There have been instances in the past in which we’ve rejected op-eds because they were very clearly not written by the person whose name appeared on the byline. But we don’t always explicitly ask people, “You wrote this thing that has your name on it, right?”
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
Sara, why is it perfectly acceptable for elected officials and business leaders to work with speechwriters to craft their thoughts into spoken words, but not acceptable to have assistance to do the same in written form? It is well known that Peggy Noonan wrote Ronald Reagan's beautifully delivered speech after the Challenger disaster, but it didn't take away from the end result. Likewise, Ted Sorenson wrote most of John F. Kennedy's speeches and wrote the first draft of what would become JFK's Pulitzer Prize winning book "Profiles in Courage."
I keep hearing how "millions will be stripped of their health coverage" or how they'll "lose" coverage under proposed legislation. I wonder, if driver's licenses were no longer required to drive would the millions that chose to not renew their license "lose" or "be stripped of" their license?
But we don’t always explicitly ask people, “You wrote this thing that has your name on it, right?”
Perhaps it's time for a VoSD policy that asks writers of opinion pieces to confirm they have at least read the work before it is posted. something similar to the video declaration that a candidate "approve[s] this message".