Who is Really Writing?

The subject of ghostwriting continues to be contentious in regards to its ethical viability. As new technologies and business practices begin to ask more of company CEOs, politicians, and other professions, many are turning to ghostwriters. This surely amounts to the outsourcing of the one thing that individuals should absolutely be held accountable for, and that is their words.

The very fact that this practice is most often used by people who are in the public eye should send up a red flag to any skeptical individual.  Take politicians, for example. Many politicians today have ghostwriters who write their speeches, books, pubic announcements, and even their own written commentary on an issue. There comes a point when one should question whether or not the very words coming from a politician’s mouth are really his or her own.  In the world of politics the very idea of this should raise eyebrows seeing as the basic function of the politician in society is to represent a wider constituency. In regards to their constituency a politician’s words are everything. As PRSA states in its core values, public relations should “work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.” Ghostwriting inherently fractures the foundation of these ethics by giving the politician, or other official, a means to shift blame if something written proves to be unfavorable to the public.

This same fractured ethical framework extends to any instance where ghostwriting can occur. For example, the print journalism industry is seeing a proliferation in the number of op-ed style pieces written by ghostwriters. This proves to be ethically questionable according to Dan Gilmore because of the byline. A byline exists to show the reader who authored what they are reading. As PRSA states, public relations practitioners should, “Be honest and accurate in all communications.” In short, if a byline doesn’t reflect the fact that an article was written or contributed to by a ghostwriter then, Gilmore states, “a false byline is an outright, direct lie.” Gilmore’s full quote and the related articles by Lewis McCrary can be accessed here.

In conclusion, ghostwriting can be an ethical practice when used under the correct conditions. It is unrealistic to believe that every individual with important tasks to accomplish each day will always be available to write everything they need to write, but there are certain instances where ghostwriting should not be tolerated. As outlined above, ghostwriting opens many doors for abuse within its own structure because it allows people to disassociate themselves from eventual public scrutiny.


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