influential executive…communicators: scribes speak for themselves

Speechwriter cracks 100 most influential people list. JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen writes the appreciation of President Obama’s chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, as part of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list. Sorensen defends Favreau and along the way speechwriters everywhere:

True, Favreau is only a speechwriter. But the President of the United States is once again the central mover and shaker in this country and the world. The man who wields the first and final pen helps determine American policy and its place in that world.

True, he is only one of several on the President’s talented team and specializes in major domestic speeches. But having served with Obama since the President’s first days in the U.S. Senate, Favreau is primus inter pares, consulted on every key pronouncement. Today, as the world depends on America’s efforts to strengthen its economy and regain its senses, U.S. domestic policy affects everyone. …

It is President Obama who is lucky to have found someone who shares his thinking and style of speaking as readily and congenially as Jon Favreau, and it is the nation that is lucky that those two found each other. Favreau’s survival in the No. 1 position throughout all these years of testing and turmoil, believe me, is not merely a matter of luck.

Another sign of speechwriters’ increasing influence in the world: During the controversy this spring surrounding Notre Dame’s invitation of pro-choice President Obama to speak at its commencement ceremony, former President Bush chief speechwriter William McGurn traveled to campus and delivered a speech of his own. McGurn, a Notre Dame alum, argued eloquently that the university should maintain a more solid pro-life stance:

Over the years, the whole idea of truth—much less our ability to know it—has been rendered doubtful by the slow advance of a soft agnosticism that has itself become orthodoxy at so many universities. Not so at Notre Dame. All across this wondrous campus, we pass imagery that sings to us about the hope born of a Jewish woman in a Bethlehem stable. Yet we kid ourselves if we believe these images are self-sustaining. Without a witness that keeps these signposts alive, our crosses, statues, and stained-glass windows will ultimately fade into historical curiosities like the “Christo et ecclesiae” that survives to this day on buildings around Harvard Yard and the seal that still validates every Harvard degree.

One more example of a speechwriter doing the talking: A Michigan newspaper notes that in April at the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce, General Motors executive speechwriter Ryndee Carney appeared, providing “insight into the automaker’s current situation and future plans.” Executive communicators, have you ever bypassed the client and taken your organization’s message directly to the people? We’d like to hear about it: [email protected].

In case you didn’t see this story, about Mike Kelleher, who selects 10 letters a day for President Obama to read— “We pick messages that are compelling, things people say that, when you read it, you get a chill. I send him letters that are uncomfortable messages.” CEOs could use a similar service.

And if you ever worry you’ll have to wait until the great hereafter to receive your reward for speechwriting suffering, take heart that today 94-year-old Ken Hechler was honored in May with the Edwin P. Hubble Medal of Initiative by the town of Marshfield, Mo., for his speechwriting work for the Truman administration.

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