Their thoughts not their words nor their work

April 5, 2009

Deborah Coddington has lost the plot in her column cheeky MPs putting the I in spin which she concludes by saying:

Someone else does the brush strokes, chooses the colours, the MP signs the painting, all hell breaks loose. Someone else writes the sentences, chooses the adjectives and verbs, the MP signs the article.

What’s the difference?

The difference is that the signature on a painting is part of its provenance, which in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, says it’s the signatory’s work and that affects its value.

But MPs aren’t paid for opinion pieces and while their by-line shows it’s their thoughts we know it’s not necessarily all their words nor all their work because we all know they employ people to write for them.

There are two very good reasons for that – they have many more important things to do and they don’t necessarily write well.

The exception to this would be if a piece was supposed to be personal which is why I’ve always wondered about this tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary by Helen Clark  in Mindfood.

It says it’s her recollection but rather than words from the heart of someone who knew the man, it’s an impersonal account of his life which could have been written by any journalist or historian.

If she wrote it, she did herself and Sir Ed a disservice, if she didn’t it shouldn’t have been portrayed as a personal tribute.

An opinon piece expressing a ministers’ views written by someone else is common and accepted practice. A personal tribute that isn’t personal, regardless of who wrote it, short changes the subject and the reader.


Her own words or someone else’s?

June 4, 2008

The Hive asks if anyone believes that Winston Peters wrote the article on the Proliferation Security Initiative which appeared in yesterday’s Dominion.

 

I can’t find it on line so can’t comment. However, politicians don’t usually write their own press releases and opinion pieces are generally their own thoughts but may or may not be in their own words, even if its got their name above them. A personal tribute is a different matter, if it says it’s a tribute by someone then it ought to be by them and that’s what I was expecting when I saw this in the first edition of Mindfood: 

 

The Right Honourable Helen Clark recalls the extraordinary life of “Sir Ed” and why the late mountain conqueror, explorer and humanitarian will always loom large in the New Zealand consciousness.

BY The Honourable Helen Clark | Mar 17, 2008

 

After the death of a highly respected public figure a Prime Minister has a fine line to tread between what’s required by the official role and political opportunism. I though Clark got it right after Sir Edmund’s death but I don’t think she has with this tribute.

 

Media reports gave me the impression that Clark knew Sir Ed well so when I saw the headline in the magazine I expected a personal insight with a few anecdotes. Instead, it’s an impersonal account that any journalist could have written from cuttings.

 

So is it her personal tribute or one written by her staff? I’d expect a Prime Minister to be busy enough without writing tributes, and it certainly doesn’t read as if it was written by someone who knew Sir Ed. That doesn’t mean she didn’t write it; but why bother doing it if she couldn’t make it personal; and why would an editor want a tribute from the PM if it didn’t tell us anything more than could have been covered by someone who hadn’t known the subject?

 

Does it matter? Prime Ministers and former academics aren’t necessarily renowned for deathless prose so it may well be her own words , and if so it reinforces the impression of someone who lacks warmth and the personal touch. If it isn’t her writing then she’s done the magazine and its readers a disservice and it would show she hasn’t learnt from the forged painting episode.

 

Ian Wishart makes a great deal of this in Absolute Power.  I’ve read the book and agree with commentators who say it is the right wing equivalent of Nicky Hager’s Hollow Men in that both authors appear to have started with a point of view and found the evidence, to back it up.

 

However, I think Wishart makes a fair point about “paintergate”. It wasn’t just one painting when she was a busy Prime Minister (which wouldn’t have made it right, but might have been easier to understand); she eventually admitted to about half a dozen art works over 20 years and when confronted with it didn’t seem to understand she’d done anything wrong.

 

It’s not like signing a bottle of wine because the label clearly shows who made it. The signature on a painting or other work of art is part of its provenance and in the absence of any indication to the contrary it’s a statement that it is the signatory’s work. You’d think a Minister of Arts would know this and understand its importance.

 

You’d also think that anyone who was asked to produce various works of art over a 20 year period might have come up with several acceptable alternatives to paying someone else to produce them then signing them as if they were her own. Why not say she couldn’t paint but offer to help the charities in another way? Or say she couldn’t paint but was happy to donate someone else’s work; or simply do a daub?

 

 That she didn’t certainly isn’t a hanging offence and I think the police were correct in concluding that the consequences of charging her for forgery would have far outweighed the alleged crime. But what she did was wrong and she didn’t appear to accept that; so when I read the impersonal tribute I wondered if it was really written by her or one of her media team because if she didn’t really understand what was wrong with forging art, she might not also understand you shouldn’t put a by-line to a tribute written by someone else.


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