Wasted Words: Professionalism
My phone chimes. It’s one of President Donald Trump’s people. Desperate Donald has written a book he hopes will cinch his re-election next year. But it needs a good editing. Can I do this?
Of course I can. The question is, will I? The Donald is not my favourite politician. Far from it. The very thought of his winning another term nauseates me. Could I live with myself if I helped?
I imagine many editors would reject this contract out of hand, even if they had missed their last car payment. Yet we think of ourselves as professionals. Certainly I do, and in this hypothetical exchange I must hold my nose and accept the work.
I’m probably a maverick, but during several decades as a journalist I discovered the dignity of detachment. Picture me telling a superior, “I refuse to interview Prime Minister Brian Mulroney because I’m against free trade.” Later as an independent editor I worked with legal, medical and engineering professionals and experienced first-hand their detachment. Simply put, we are not our clients, nor do we have to identify with our work.
Imagine an emergency room surgeon presented with a drug trafficker who’s been on the losing end of a shootout. “Sorry, but I don’t treat pushers,” he tells ambulance attendants. How about an engineer assigned to help design a pipeline? “Are you crazy?” she asks the project manager. “I’m zero carbon!” Canada Revenue Agency disputes a business’s returns. The owner consults a lawyer who says, “Sorry, but I don’t defend tax cheats.”
Lawyers, because they often work in public view, endure a misperception of their professional responsibility. Too many people think they actually endorse the wrongdoing of their clients. In reality lawyers only serve the cause of justice, and mounting a proper defence is integral to that. Yet the following come to mind:
- Twenty years ago Stockwell Day, then an Alberta cabinet minister, criticized a lawyer for defending a convicted pedophile. Lorne Goddard sued Day for libel, and it cost Alberta taxpayers $792,000.
- Marie Henein, the lawyer who defended Jian Ghomeshi on sexual assault charges in 2016, was widely condemned as a traitor to women.
- This year Ronald Sullivan, a Harvard law professor, enraged student activists when he agreed to represent Harvey Weinstein. The university sided with the students and fired him as faculty dean of a student dormitory.
There’s a powerful lesson here for editors who think of themselves as professionals. Editing Trump’s book should not be viewed as validation of its author.
Previous post from Wilf Popoff: Wasted Words: The Risks of Reading.
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