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The Speech-writer’s Role


I have never been a fan of speech-writers who reveal themselves. It is demeaning to the person for whom they work and, frankly, a betrayal of an unspoken code of ethics.  And I don’t think it helps the speech-writer who wants to remain anonymous for others to reveal him.  Speech-writing and speech-giving are a collaborative process. But the words are only part of it. Whether the speech is successful and has a broad appeal requires more than clever wording. A great speech in the hands of a poor orator is an announcement.  Middling language in the hands of a greater orator can be a timeless oration. A great speech requires superior communication skills, including emoting and pacing and connecting. These are things that speech-writers cannot accomplish. And the speaker has to mean the words and defend them and stand by them. It is odd and disquieting that more and more speech-writers, on their own or others on their behalf, seem to claim ownership of their boss’s message. There’s just something unseemly about it to me — credit taken for the Challenger speech, “the axis of evil,” etc., etc. When the words come out of the speaker’s mouth, they belong to the speaker. I notice speech-writers don’t take credit for bad speeches.

UPDATE:  My above remarks should not be misconstrued as accusing Matthew Scully of taking credit or even revealing himself as involved in the Palin speech. I understand him to be an honorable person. I was making a more general point about those who do promote themselves and those who do so on their behalf (with or without the speech-writer’s knowledge). Besides, Scully is an animal lover like me.


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