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Paperback White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters Book

ISBN: 0743291700

ISBN13: 9780743291705

White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters

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Book Overview

In White House Ghosts, veteran Washington reporter Robert Schlesinger opens a fresh and revealing window on the modern presidency from FDR to George W. Bush. This is the first book to examine a crucial and often hidden role played by the men and women who help presidents find the words they hope will define their places in history.

Drawing on scores of interviews with White House scribes and on extensive archival research, Schlesinger...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Great lessons for any speech writer

Schlesinger describes the men and women who acted as speech writers to every President from FDR in 1932 to George W. Bush in 2001. Each administration is given a chapter. Each President's relationship with his speech writers is outlined with an analysis of one or more key speeches. Sometimes an Inaugural Address; sometimes the State of the Union address; or a speech on foreign or domestic policy; once a resignation speech. What's fascinating is the unique relationship each President had with his speech writers and other close advisers. The games they played. The office politics. The late nights. Who `owned' the speech and at what point and to what extent the President gave direction. The best were intimately involved. Sorensen and Kennedy were so close that someone observed "When Jack is wounded, Ted bleeds." Carter kept speech writers at arms-length and "didn't much like the idea of using them, ever." It showed. In some administrations, White House staffers would rail against the power of a speech writer to make policy. In others, the speech writers were emasculated scribes left out in the cold. What's absolutely fascinating for anyone who has worked in communications in large commercial organizations (as I have) is how eerily familiar many of the trials and tribulations of the role supporting a CEO is to that of the White House Ghosts. Here's some which had a familiar ring: * Eisenhower's speech writer Bryce Harlow only agreed to take on the role "on the condition that he get to spend a great deal of time around the president so as to best understand how Ike liked to express himself, what his concerns were, how to capture the man's voice." (p. 82) * Eisenhower advising Harlow not to circulate a speech too widely for review. Ike himself was a speech writer (for MacArthur in the Philippines) and is quoted as saying " thing I know: If you put ten people to work on a speech, they'll kill anything in it that has any character." (p.85) * JFK used speechwriters to counter the "diplomatic blandness" the State Department bureaucracy produced. Echoing the same tin ear that many high-tech Product Marketing departments have when asked to submit speaking points for a CEO speech, the recipe the State Department used "was evidently to take a handful of cliches...repeat at five minute intervals...stir in the dough of the passive voice...and garnish with self-serving rhetoric." (p.131) * Speech writers in the Kennedy White House influenced strategy and policy "The two roles - writer and policymaker - were symbiotic. .. Active participation made accurate articulation likely.." (p.149) * In the Nixon White House Kissinger put the speechwriter "through so many drafts with short deadlines and with such insistence on his own organization and language" that the writer said "I'm sick of being Henry's stenographer." (p.206) * Regan's speech writer Josh Gilder observed that "writing the speech was a small part of (the) job". "Naviga

Who Wrote It? Who Said It? Who Came Up With The Idea?

'White House Ghosts' seeks to answer the questions of who wrote the best Presidential speeches and lines, which President gave the speech, and who came up with the ideas at the core of those speeches. Often times, other than who said it, those questions are not easily answered but Schlesinger still weaves a great historical accounting of presidential history, communications, and policy development since FDR. At its best, Schlesinger makes clear that speechwriting is a collaborative effort that brings together a President's vision with the wordsmithing of a talented writer with the time to spend on a speech. At its worse, speechwriting appears to drive policy development and changes because a good line was created, so the policy must follow through. Perhaps even worse is when a line has no relation to policy at all (see President George W. Bush's second inaugural). Schlesinger's exhaustive research brings you into each presidency, shows you how the President interacted with the speechwriters and how some of the most famous, and important, words of the 20th and early 21st century came about. A must for any student or fan of presidential history.

Interesting and insightful. Great read for those with an interest in Speechwriters.

Even though I live in Australia, I have long been fascinated with U.S. politics. Especially since GWB walked into the job. It made your politics a lot more interesting. (Good or bad, make your own decisions, I have certainly made mine.) Even more interesting to me are the Presidents speechwriters. I realise there may be plenty of good books available on this topic which I could have bought, however I was always waiting for that up to date and new book which inevitably had to be released. For me, this is that book. I am sorry that I do not have the ability to write a comprehensive review. My writing skills do not allow, which is probably why I am fascinated with the skills of a Presidential Speechwriter. If, like me, you are a layperson who simply enjoys reading about these remarkable writers and how they interact with their Presidents, I am sure you will not be disappointed with this book. Also, Mr. Schlesinger writes in such a way that even though this book looks imposing, with almost 600 pages, it is nice to read and easily digestible.

A Must Read

Schlesinger has summarized the presidencies from FDR to W. How each president used, or not, the skills of their respective 'ghosts' shows one and all that words do matter; as well as the wisdom of our first executives when it came to choosing their wordsmiths. Witty and full of details, each chapter of this book is a joy. Indeed, this a must read.

Excellent presidential history

This is an insightful, detailed and well balanced history of the relationships between American presidents and the people who write their speeches. Mr. Schlesinger interviewed more than 90 speechwriters and other aides. He devotes a separate chapter to each president from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to George Walker Bush. Raymond Moley wrote about FDR: "My job from the beginning . . . was to sift proposals for him, discuss facts and ideas with him, and help him crystallize his own policy. Schlesinger writes that FDR believed "policies and words are inextricably linked -- the former cannot be conjured in the absence of the latter." FDR's speechwriters were "advisers as well as wordsmiths." Truman continued FDR's practices; speeches were written at meetings "at which most of his principal advisers, including Dean Acheson, were present, and during which policy was really and carefully shaped through its articulation." Over time the job evolved. "As television eclipsed radio as the nation's medium, as the White House staff grew from a handful to a sprawling group of specialized cadres, and, of course, as each president has dealt with it in his own way." For awhile, the role of the speechwriter was something of a secret. John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address was in nearly final form. But he pretended to be writing a first draft of it in longhand to give a leading reporter the impression that he, not Theodore Sorensen, was the major author. Johnson continued the secrecy tradition. Richard Goodwin remembers that "the finest moments of my life in politics" were spent writing an address leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. "It is not just Negroes, but it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we . . . shall . . . overcome." Johnson [and Goodwin] made black protest his own. Reporters were told that Johnson himself wrote the speech, but the speech was Mr. Goodwin's work. He had worked closely with Johnson for a year and, Goodwin wrote later, Goodwin had drawn on his own knowledge of Johnson -- "not merely his views, but his manner of expression, patterns of reasoning, the natural cadences of his speech. [My goal was] to heighten and polish -- illuminate, as it were -- his inward beliefs and natural idiom, to attain . . . an authenticity of expression.... the document was pure Johnson." Nixon broke with the secrecy tradition and "established the first formally structured White House speechwriting office, called the Writing and Research Department, or in Nixon's words, "the PR department". Schlesinger writes that the writers were rarely consulted on policy matters. In fact, Nixon wrote speeches on his own with little or no input from the speechwriting office. Schlesinger writes that speechwriters had little involvement in the making of policy and only limited access to the president in most of the administrations that followed Nixon's. For example, "Ronald Reagan's speechwriters had diminishing acces
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