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Ghostwriting: Attribution and Accountability

Glenn Otis Brown, March 29th, 2005

I’m a week behind on extracurricular reading, so forgive the delay in drawing attention to this often-hilarious essay on ghostwriting by Joe Queenan in last week’s NYTimes book review.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here are a couple of nuggets for the IP-minded:

[I]n recent times a cloud has begun to hang over the deliciously vaporous world of ghostwriting. This is because greater transparency about the collaborative process has inadvertently led to greater confusion. Things started to take a bad turn when the basketball legend Charles Barkley complained that he had been misquoted in his own autobiography. This gave rise to a niggling suspicion in some quarters that ghostwriters were churning out books with only minimal input from their nominal authors. Shocking! . . .

And on Newt Gingrich’s shameless (and stylistically criminal) ghostwriting:

I do not think I am being overcritical by saying that such prose lacks the epic grandeur of a Tolstoy or a Norman Mailer. But what is particularly irksome for the reviewer is that he has no way of knowing who is to blame for these hideous passages. Newt Gingrich is still a powerful voice in the American political community and still young enough to run again for high public office. If William R. Forstchen is the one responsible for the lunkheaded plot and comic-book dialogue of this infantile novel or the more recent ”Gettysburg” (”He thought of Elizabeth, sweet Elizabeth, wondering what she would say of him if he ever confessed his terror”), that is one thing. But if Gingrich himself is the one firing off these fusillades of malarkey, it could be a portent of some very unnerving stump speeches in years to come.

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