Talking About “It”

I don’t talk about “It” – the corporate earthquake I wrote about yesterday. In fact, yesterday’s post is the most I’ve ever said about the experience. But I was prompted to write about it by two things – first, the mess Eliott Spitzer has created, and second, a luncheon I attended yesterday.

It was at the New York Speechwriters’ Roundtable, a group of mostly corporate scribes who gather three or four times a year to share a brown-bag lunch and listen to a speaker. Speaking to a group of speechwriters must be a daunting proposition, but the gentleman we heard from yesterday seemed personable enough. What bothered me, though, was his topic.

He has written a book. Good for him. But it’s a book about his former employer, the man for whom he wrote speeches for 20 years. Which, in my opinion, is not so good. Now, I understand why he did it – his old boss’ name on the cover will sell books, no doubt about it. But I can’t help thinking that it’s a betrayal of trust.

The author asked us that question: As speechwriters, did we think he’d broken “the seal of the confessional” (he’s an Irish Catholic – can you tell?). I was pretty surprised to hear the two or three people who responded to the question say, basically, that his boss, being a public figure, was fair game. I didn’t say anything because I haven’t read the book – and I doubt I will – but judging from the kinds of stories the author said he put in the book, I think I would have made a different decision.

In fact, I have.

I, too, have a former boss (maybe more than one) whose name on the cover would sell any book I wrote. I could have written about the “earthquake,” but instead I don’t even speak about it. (You’ll notice that yesterday’s post deals only with my experience, not anyone else’s.) One of my old bosses (not the one who caused the earthquake) once introduced me to a woman who said, “I’d love to talk to you about [the earthquake]” and I immediately said, “Oh, no. I don’t talk about that. Because I don’t know how much of what I know is privileged information and what (if anything) has made it into the public record.” And with that (and – actually it’s funny to remember this detail now – after I made some comment about Eliott Spitzer), the woman went away. Months later, I found out she was writing an authorized book. So not only will I not write about “It,” I also lost my opportunity to be a footnote in the definitive history of “It.” Which is just fine with me.

Hire me, and I figure that whatever I witness from the time I walk into the lobby doors in the morning until I crawl back through them at night, that’s your business – and nobody else’s. That may be an old-fashioned attitude. And it may keep me off the best-seller lists. But I sleep like a baby at night.

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