Pondering the current scuffle between former Bush speechwriter Michael J. Gerson and his once-assistant Matthew Sculley, I have to wonder: What's the prize for winning this battle?
In case you've missed the headlines, Sculley accuses Gerson of taking credit for famous Bushisms that were actually written by lesser-known staff scribes. In the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly, a place where a lot of former White House writers go to die, Sculley lets loose a scathing tirade of his former boss, calling Gerson a "self-publicizing glory hog" guilty of "foolish vanity," "sheer pettiness" and "credit hounding."
Egads, this sounds serious. In fact, the fight is so important that today's Washington Post features it on the front page, right next to some lesser story about the imminent collapse of global financial systems and stock markets.
Apparently there's value in being recognized as the creative genius behind what many pundits view as the worst Presidency in modern history. One may be excused for evilly wishing that whomever is responsible for the wit and wisdom of George W. Bush gets every ounce of credit he or she deserves.
Of course, it's also possible this episode merely illustrates why speechwriters should always remain anonymous. By fighting over who penned Bush's great lines, Gerson and Sculley are breaking the first Commandment of Speechwriting: Never discuss who you currently work for, what you do, or how much of the creative end product represents yours vs. the client's own brilliance.
The object of speechwriting is to make the speaker look great. If the writer stands in the wings taking bows, he's distracting attention from the client, and as importantly, from the issue the client is trying to present. If the writer is that eager for credit, he ought to give the damned speech himself, or maybe insist on a free plug. What if President Bush had phrased it like this:
"As my speechwriter says, Iraq, Iran and North Korea are the 'axis of evil.' "
That's ridiculous, of course.
Speechwriters, take heed from this fiasco. Wise up -- and keep your mouths shut.