I like it when politicians have direct, unfiltered access to the public. The media have plenty of opportunities to posit themselves between candidates and voters. If a pol lies, twists or omits relevant facts and there’s no one from the Fourth Estate to call him or her on it, well, so be it. There will always be another opportunity.
That said, I don’t think the Boston Globe did enough to make sure that the four Democratic candidates for U.S. senator actually wrote their own op-eds in Sunday’s paper. If words are appearing under the bylines of (in fair-and-balanced alphabetical order) Mike Capuano, Martha Coakley, Alan Khazei and Steve Pagliuca, I’d like some assurance that they were written by the candidates, not those of some paid spinner.
But when I asked editorial-page editor Peter Canellos what precautions the Globe had taken, he replied by e-mail that he had checked with op-ed editor Marjorie Pritchard and, essentially, none had been taken. “I spoke to Marjorie, and the answer is that we simply requested that they write pieces for the op-ed page,” Canellos told me. “There were no further restrictions imposed on them.”
Granted, short of some sort of forensic investigation, it would be impossible for a newspaper to make sure candidate op-eds were actually written by the candidates. But I think the candidates should have been asked directly to write their own statements, with no assistance from staffers other than editing. That way, they’d have been put on notice that if they didn’t, then they were cheating.
I realize that I’m holding a candidate’s written words to a higher standard than I am spoken words. But the role of speechwriters is well-established, and the very fact that a candidate has to speak the words changes the equation. A ghostwritten op-ed, in contrast, might never even be seen by the candidate — we simply have no way of knowing.
Besides, when a newspaper such as the Globe solicits op-eds, it is taking responsibility for what it publishes in a way that’s entirely different from running a story about a candidate’s speech.
It’s time to banish the ghosts from the op-ed page. Who you gonna call?
An additional thought: Several of the commenters make the point that ghostwritten op-eds are a long-established practice throughout the newspaper business. So let me clarify. Yes, I know that. Not reading obviously ghostwritten op-eds is an equally established practice. It’s time for a change, don’t you think?