Washington Post columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum has his panties in a twist again about the practice of public policy advocates employing professional writers to help them draft newspaper op-eds. As a writer who specializes in just this niche I have an objection to his objection, and you should too.
Just ask yourself—do you really want to read op-eds whose every word is written by lawyers, scientists and Henry Kissinger? Is Senator McConnell as good a writer as Salman Rushdie? When you see a politician’s or celebrity’s byline on a newspaper page, do you believe they wrote it all by themselves?
Of course not. But the Washington Post apparently believes something different.
A few months ago, Jeffrey Birnbaum wrote a pair of articles that “outed” a PR campaign which included a “white paper” circulating on Capitol Hill making the case for Congressional earmarks, and also an op-ed in the Washington Post “written” by three big-city mayors. He must have imagined a scene out of the Dick Van Dyke show, where the mayors stood around a computer, chomping on cigars and arguing over participles, but then was disappointed to find the hidden hand of a PR firm.
“Soon after my column on the paper ran last week,” Birnbaum wrote last May, “the company's president, W. Roger Gwinn, phoned to admit that his firm's seven-person budget and appropriations policy team wrote it -- initially to explain to clients why they tended to get more money from congressional earmarks than from federal agencies left to their own devices. It was later distributed to lobbyists and congressional staffers.
That's when it became famous as a bold defense for the much-maligned earmarking process.
The document's facts were used in an op-ed piece praising earmarks that appeared under the names of mayors of three cities represented by the Ferguson Group. The firm had a hand in placing that op-ed in the Washington Post, though it initially denied any involvement.”
Now, Birnbaum is at it again. In a recent column headlined, “The Man Behind the Byline Isn't Behind the Article. So, Who Is?” Jeffrey Birnbaum revisits the shocking practice of ghostwriting. Reading between the lines, you can see how the machinery of government, journalism and public relations really works.