Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ghostwriting Gist

I wouldn't call it a scandal, but it is an interesting data point:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A member of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education paid a New York ghostwriter $10,000 to pen Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist's 10-page speech to the General Assembly last month.

Regent Angus Davis, an entrepreneur, offered to pay for a speechwriter when he heard that Gist was reluctant to tap into her department's budget for the work, as had been done in the past, Gist said Tuesday.

First, one should note that Gist picked one of Joe Lieberman's old hands, Dan Gerstein, or at least his shop, for the job.

Secondly, I'd noticed at the time that the speech struck a peculiar tone near the beginning:

Three weeks ago, I traveled back to Washington with our leadership team.

We went there because Rhode Island was one of only 16 states named a finalist in the President’s Race to the Top competition, which will award states more than $4 billion to dramatically reform and reshape education for the 21st century. And we were asked to make our final case for our plan to transform our public schools into national models of excellence and to show that Rhode Island is ready. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be talking about a winning streak — or any streak, for that matter — other than the one in my hair.

Well, I quickly came back to earth. As you may know, we got some very, very bad news that Monday. I learned that my Guinness World Record for most kisses in a minute had been broken by some ill-natured person in Scotland. (emphasis added)

As someone who spent more time than he really wanted to as an undergraduate analyzing the construction of gender and its role in oppression in texts, I just couldn't parse a powerful woman (a Time top 100 "thinker!") in a relatively new role would presenting herself in that way. I just didn't get it. Now, it kind of makes sense.

Next question: which consultant's idea was it to put her picture on the top of every single page of the Rhode Island Department of Education's website?

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