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PunditWire Debut

Posted on the 28 February 2013 by Charlescrawford @charlescrawford

I am pleased and honoured to tell you that I have been accepted as part of the Punditwire team.

Punditwire is a US website featuring the views of many top American speechwriters on current events.The list of contributors is daunting. A group of fine people from many different shades of opinion who have delivered top-level speechwriting and public speaking work in that most testing of competitive environments, the USA.

My first piece is here. It looks at the Language of Political Apology, with special reference to David Cameron's recent visit to India and what he said (and wrote) at the scene of the ghastly Amritsar massacre of Indian protestors by Britihs colonial forces back in 1919:

At the Golden Temple Mr. Cameron went out of his way to pay respectful gestures including walking barefoot and greeting pilgrims. In the book of condolence he wrote the following:

This was a deeply shameful event in British history – one that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as “monstrous”. We must never forget what happened here. And in remembering we must ensure that the United Kingdom stands up for the right to peaceful protest around the world.

From a speechwriter’s point of view, that last sentence strikes a subtly jarring note: a trite but superfluous political sound-bite added to what otherwise was a strong, clear message...

... He also understood that even if his words went down impressively well on the day with most people in Amritsar itself, the modern global media would find and quote at least one person insisting that the Prime Minister had just not gone far enough.

This maybe explains why his visit did not include a private session with relatives or descendants of the victims of the Amritsar massacre to offer personal words of condolence. Even if this gesture would have been hugely appreciated by most of them, the media would have pounced on dissatisfaction or resentment expressed by any of them and frothed that up into the major story of the visit.

As it was many British and international media headlines duly led on implicitly critical/negative angles of the Amritsar visit:

“David Cameron defends lack of apology for British massacre at Amritsar” (Guardian)

“No Apology, Just Regret!” (Indiatimes)

“Does Cameron’s decision not to apologize for 1919 massacre really matter?” (Christian Science Monitor)

“My pride in the British Empire, says David Cameron in India as he stops short of an apology for 1919 massacre at Amritsar” (Daily Mail)

Much of the coverage nonetheless conceded that many Indians including some relatives of the victims had been pleased with David Cameron’s approach and strong words. All in all, a pretty good result in problematic circumstances.

Conclusion? A speechwriter mulling over options for words of regret or apology needs a wily pen. The words chosen must complement the visual and symbolic context in which they are to be spoken, to give the best chance of conveying a message of substantive sincerity. It’s not enough to be decent and right. You have to be convincing.

A nice challenge for whichever senior British person represents the nation in India in 2019 at the centenary commemoration of the Amritsar killings.

Read the whole thing. And when you have done that, treat yourself to a look at what Hal Gordon (speechwriter in the Reagan White House) makes of our controversy over Richard III:

With all opposition thus eliminated or else terrorized into inaction, Richard had himself crowned king. But one threat remained: his nephews. Even bastardized and confined to the Tower, they were still a potential focus for plots against the new regime. Richard’s apologists insist that he never murdered the boys, and there is not enough courtroom evidence to prove Richard guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

But still, four damning particulars remain: First, the boys disappeared from sight over a year before Richard was killed at Bosworth Field. Second, it is unlikely that anyone but Richard would have taken the responsibility for ordering their deaths. Third, if anyone else had killed them, such person was never charged with the crime. And fourth, as rumors spread throughout England that the boys had met with foul play, Richard could have easily silenced the wagging tongues by producing his nephews alive. He never did.

These rumors are in themselves cogent evidence that the “black legend” surrounding Richard III was not fabricated later on by Tudor propagandists. It was rooted in what his subjects thought of him while he was still alive.

Beautifully put.

Plenty more fine work there. Enjoy.


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