Last year, an Op-Ed in my personal Blog, AWildDuck.com, caught the attention of a retired US politician. His staff contacted me, due to an editorial that was highly critical of his colleague (a younger politician who still holds office). Fearing an angry reader with clout, I was preparing to defend my position and my First Amendment freedoms, when the bigwig pulled the phone away from his assistant—and made me an offer.
He didn’t want me to retract the article about his colleague. In fact, he thought that the current US Senator was a bigger putz than I had portrayed. Instead, he wanted me to write his kiss-and-tell memoirs—
a book that was guaranteed to be filled with all sorts of juicy revelations. I was ecstatic! This was a dream job—precisely the reason that I started the Blog: to land a string of high-dollar writing gigs.
His lawyers contacted me. We exchanged documents. I signed an NDA and provided writing samples in several different styles. His family and aides analyzed my writing for plagiarism, geographic or anachronistic idioms, and for level and clarity. Within the week, he hired me as his ghostwriter.
I began writing under the name of a well-known, national politician. During interviews, I was in awe of this internationally known historical figure, who—in the sunset of life—chose me as his personal conduit to history. Although I could not tell my family who was this important figure, my teenage daughter figured it out, based on overhearing my side of several interviews. She was sworn to secrecy.
After three months, and several drafts of the first chapters, I backed out of the project and returned a sizable pile of cash. I was unable to apply my passion and zeal to this man’s shocking opinions and nuggets of “wisdom”, even though my name would not appear on the book. I just couldn’t bring myself to rephrase what he said in interviews and what appeared in his notes…
It’s unclear whether my employer had changed in his golden years, or if—perhaps—a racist misogynist was smoldering under the surface all these years.
Perhaps most surprising, for me, is that he had publicly championed women’s rights throughout an illustrious career, yet—at least today—he secretly feels that our country’s ills are a direct result of gains in women’s jobs, pay, education, rights and reproductive freedom. He wanted me to explain that empowerment of women during the 60s and 70s effectively castrated men both at home and on the job. He earnestly believes that the best place for a women is in the kitchen or the bedroom. He can barely tolerate a woman in the workplace, so long as she is a nurse or secretary or school teacher.
Today, I came across a similar story in The New Yorker. But this one has a very different ending. In this case, the ghostwriter completed the book, only to be filled with remorse!
Tony Schwartz,is the ghostwriter behind Donald Trump’s 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal. It is among the most successful business books in publishing history. Unlike me, he did not back out his gig. He is an excellent wordsmith, and—just like a good speech writer—he wove his compelling art for Donald Trump.
Tonight, Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination for the highest office in our land. But, Tony Schwartz regrets “putting lipstick on a pig”. (Editor’s Note: I really like the metaphor!). Tony’s skillful pen made Trump look astute, insightful, savvy and successful. And it created an impression that hoodwinked the Republican nomination.