“I was born in East Baltimore, on Chester Street. I lived there for three years, then we moved out to Pimlico and for the rest of my adult life until I got married I lived there on Oakmont Avenue about four blocks from the racetrack…”
Those are the opening words of former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel’s memoirs, I’ll Never Forget It, but he didn’t write them down. I did. There is nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything wrong with me telling you. Politicians strike different deals with their ghostwriters. Ours placed my name on the cover of the book (“with Jeremy Lott”).
Politicians exercise various degrees of control over their ghostwritten material. Richard Nixon was a notorious control freak who would drastically rework the chapters that his research assistants produced for him. Everything that went out under his name had to sound exactly right to him.
Ronald Reagan was much less hands-on with his ghostwriters. At the press conference introducing his ghostwritten post-presidential autobiography An American Life, he quipped “I hear it’s terrific. Maybe someday I’ll read it.” The crowd loved the line but I’ve heard that his publisher did not.
Four years ago, during his first campaign for the GOP nomination for president, Texas congressman Ron Paul came under fire for incendiary words that appeared in his newsletters. We can chew on the substance of those words some other time. Suffice it to say that they are not defensible statements, that many of them are racist or racially-tinged, and that Paul himself has expressed deep regret for ever letting them go out under his name.
Right now, I am concerned with the latest effort to fan the old flames of controversy to blaze by folks insisting that Paul really did write those words, or played an active role in editing and producing those newsletters. The simple truth is that, no, he didn’t write or edit the newsletters in question. Usually, he didn’t bother to read them until well after the fact.
We learned all of this in the last election cycle, but critics are trying to make old charges new again. The website Conservatives Network has splashed pictures of the newsletters up in a post titled “Who Wrote The Ron Paul Newsletters? Ron Paul Wrote Them — Clear Proof.” The site’s “clear proof” consists of helpful red arrows and circles that highlight the use of the first person in the newsletters, a mimeographed signature, and the fact that Paul was listed as editor.
All of those things are true and beside the point. Paul says that he did not write the words in question. He published four different newsletters over the years: “Ron Paul’s Freedom Report,” “The Ron Paul Political Report,” “The Ron Paul Survival Report” and “The Ron Paul Investment Letter.” For some time, he took an active interest in writing and editing them but in the early nineties, newsletter production was farmed out to ghostwriters who were given de facto free rein. At that point in his life, Paul was out of politics and working crazy hours to reestablish his medical practice as an ob-gyn after he had torched a whole year of his medical life to challenge George H.W. Bush as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president.
Paul has declined to name the ghostwriters for a couple of reasons. One, anonymity was part of the deal that he struck with them. Two, he professes genuine ignorance of who wrote what specific words, and he may have a point there. After an investigation, Reason magazine fingered former Paul congressional staffer Lew Rockwell and a few of his colleagues that he had farmed the ghost-ghostwriting out to as likely culprits.
We should note that nearly every single fair-minded person who has looked into the matter believes Paul didn’t write the offending newsletters. The words in question simply do not sound anything like Paul’s message or delivery. The question that critics such as The American Spectator ‘s own Jeffrey Lord are now pressing is, Well, OK, he didn’t write those words, but he knew what his ghostwriters were doing in his name.
To that poisonous end, Lord cites the words of embittered former Paul staffer Eric Dondero. Dondero is an interesting and erratic character who, like Lord, has very serious disagreements about Paul on foreign policy. Dondero once founded an organization called Libertarians for Lieberman, which makes about as much sense as Marxists for Tax Cuts. Dondero charges that Paul “did read them, every one of them” and signed off on the newsletters “before they were published.”
When I put these charges to Paul’s presidential campaign spokesman Gary Howard, he was a bit exasperated. His first e-mail read, in full, “Eric Dondero is a disgruntled former staffer who was fired for performance issues. He is not a valid source.” I kept prodding. In a follow up, Howard, who is black, said, “Congressman Paul has said many times that he didn’t know about these terrible writings, and did not sign off on them.”
That may not be the end of the matter. There are all kinds of questions stemming from the newsletters, especially the issue of Ron Paul’s executive competence. (Paulistas will no doubt rejoin that he learned something from the debacle.) But the unsmoking gun here is Paul’s authorship and creative control of those newsletters. If this were a reality TV show, we might call it “Ghostwriters Gone Wild.”