Speechwriter as sycophant, or errand boy as speechwriter?

For the most part, I don’t write speeches. That’s why I have time to read so many speeches, and write about speechwriters.

Occasionally, not being on the front lines leaves me at a disadvantage. Such as when, a couple weeks ago, I spouted in defense of strategic-minded speechwriters that Michele Bachmann’s speechwriter is a “sycophant.” Bellowed I, in our weekly Executive Communication Report:

One of the least flattering profiles of speechwriters we’ve seen in a long time appeared in Monday’s Miami Herald. Michele Bachmann’s aide Brett O’Donnell is shown holding the door for the candidate and described as “her principal speechwriter, debate coach, message guru and all-around errand guy.” O’Donnell’s quotes don’t contradict the portrayal: “I help with debate prep, speechwriting, messaging and anything else she asks me to do.” Say it ain’t so, O.

Satisfied that I had defended the strategic sovereignty of speechwriters everywhere, I was smacked by an e-mail from a long-trusted correspondent, a veteran speechwriter whose word is gold with me:

Mr. Murray—

As one who has been in campaigns where money is scarce even for TV advertising, I can say that you were too hard on Mr. O’Donnell.

Speechwriters, especially in sagging, underfunded campaigns, are like the editors of weekly newspapers used to be: They do everything, including sweeping out the place.

Say it ain’t so; it is so.

All but the highest paid consultants are doing a little bit of everything, including holding the door open when it’s their day on the road. They run to get sandwiches, they scramble to get drug store eye glasses to replace the prescription glasses the candidate lost, they persuade passersby to come in for a few minutes so to make a news conference appear better attended than it really is.

They do whatever errands they’re called on to do. 

If Mr. O’Donnell is actually doing the message, he’s in great shape.

The consultants often do that, whatever the speechwriters might be offering up.

Such are the realities of too little money and too little help for most candidates at this stage in an underfunded campaign. If the candidate makes the big race this will change.

But not where Bachmann is now.

Mr. O’Donnell, if you have the time to hear it, I offer my apology, and my wish that you soon become on of those highest-paid consultants, free from sandwich-snatching, glasses-gophering and press-conference papering. —DM

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