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The Ethics of Speechwriting

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Part of the Rhetoric, Politics and Society book series (RPS)


In this chapter, we discuss ethical issues surrounding the practice of speechwriting. We outline the code of ethics for speechwriters developed in 2015. We recognize that the very act of writing speeches for others can bring a host of ethical questions and that at the heart of the issue stands the speaker whose words have supposedly been written by another. Yet, upon careful assessment, we argue, this is not the case. Instead, we offer the perspective that most individuals in leadership positions have aides and consultants for various tasks and speaking in public is one of them. We take the work of the speechwriters as an advisor who assists those entrusted with speaking to negotiating effectively a text and context and opting for maximizing a speech’s effect.

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  1. 1.

    Organized by The Professional Speechwriters Association (see at the Georgetown University (McDonough School of Business) on October 7–8, 2015.

  2. 2.

    The code can be found online at Accessed January 6, 2019.

  3. 3.


  4. 4.

    Richard L. Johannesen , Ethics in Human Communication, 3rd ed. (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1990), 17.

  5. 5.

    Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 2nd ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999), 7.

  6. 6.

    Ritter and Medhurst, 6–7.

  7. 7.

    Ibid., 8–9.

  8. 8.

    Ibid., 9–10.

  9. 9.

    Ibid., 12.

  10. 10.

    Ernest G. Bormann, “Ghostwriting and the Rhetorical Critic,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 46 (1960), 284–288.

  11. 11.

    Ibid., 285

  12. 12.

    Ernest G. Bormann, “Ethics of Ghostwritten Speeches,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 47 (1961), 262–267.

  13. 13.

    Ernest G. Bormann, “Response (to Franklyn S. Haiman’s “Ghostwriting and the Cult of Leadership”),” Communication Education 33 (1984), 304.

  14. 14.

    Franklyn S. Haiman , “Ghostwriting and the Cult of Leadership,” Communication Education 33 (1984), 301–304.

  15. 15.

    Matthew W. Seeger , “Ghostbusting: Exorcising the Great Man Spirit from the Speechwriting Debate,” Communication Education 36, no. 4 (1985), 353–358, 357.

  16. 16.

    Ibid., 357. Cf. Matthew W. Seeger , “Ethical Issues in Corporate Speechwriting ,” Journal of Business Ethics 11, no. 7 (1992), 501–504.

  17. 17.

    George Kennedy, “Prooemion,” in Aristotle on Rhetoric : A Theory of Civic Discourse (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), viii.

  18. 18.

    Cited in Karlyn K. Campbell and Thomas R. Burkholder, Critiques of Contemporary Rhetoric, 2nd ed. (Wadsworth Publishing, 1997), 118.

  19. 19.

    Ibid., 119.

  20. 20.

    Jamieson , Eloquence, the following quotes are from pages 204, 217, 218.

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Correspondence to Jens E. Kjeldsen .

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Kjeldsen, J.E., Kiewe, A., Lund, M., Barnholdt Hansen, J. (2019). The Ethics of Speechwriting. In: Speechwriting in Theory and Practice. Rhetoric, Politics and Society. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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