Ghostwritten op-eds are outright lies that deceive readers, writes Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight centre for digital media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, in a recent edition of the Guardian.

Ghostwritten op-eds are outright lies that deceive readers, writes Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight centre for digital media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, in a recent edition of the Guardian.

This ethical question — should newspapers print ghostwritten op-eds — is barely on the radar of most news organizations, he adds. But Gillmor believes it should be.

"Op-ed pieces that run under the bylines of famous politicians, celebrities and business people are almost never written by those people, just as they rarely author their autobiographies," he writes. "They don't have time."

Students, he adds, would never get away with such a thing:

"Society has a blind spot about this practice — and applies a double standard. If we catch a student paying someone to write his or her paper for a class, or even if the actual writer does it for free, we give the student a failing grade. Or, in some cases (such as in a journalism school), we might well invite the student (and perhaps the collaborator, too, if it's another student) to quit altogether."

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And what about the defense that ghostwritten op-eds are a lot like ghostwritten speeches? Baloney, says Gillmor. While the analogy is tempting, he adds, it's also wrong.

"A false byline is an outright, direct lie, " he writes, "And news organisations that run these pieces are encouraging dishonesty, which they compound, albeit with good motives, by helpfully editing often turgid prose to make it more compelling."

Gillmor's solution is simple: stop publishing them.

"I wish I could persuade editors that they are contributing, albeit in a relatively small way, to public cynicism about the media by allowing this sleight of hand to persist. And if I was running a news organisation, I wouldn't run such pieces, period. If I'd flunk a student for doing it, why should I give a pass to the rich and powerful?"

What do you think? Is Gillmor right, or is there nothing wrong with a bit of ghostwriting?