By Lande Watson, PCM '18
Whether the Attorney General is speaking about the Justice Department’s plan to take legal action against North Carolina’s transphobic “bathroom bill” or the gun laws “that allow an individual to legally purchase weapons that facilitate mass killing,” it is clear that her words are compelling.
The Attorney General’s job is to seek justice for all Americans, but the law is not their only tool to accomplish this inexhaustible goal. The law is powerful, but so are words. As someone fascinated by the law and writing, a speechwriting position at the Department of Justice was my dream internship.
On my first day, I expected to read through old speeches, take a look at the intern manual, and maybe help with some research or filing. Instead, I was immediately assigned a speech to write for Attorney General Loretta Lynch. My supervisor, the Deputy Speechwriter for the Attorney General, asked me to have a draft to him by the end of the day.
Throughout the fall semester, I wrote remarks on topics ranging from juvenile justice, to the efforts of the tax division, to the actions the department has taken in combating anti-LGBT actions at the state level. Some of these remarks have taken the form of public speeches, some were talking points, and others were scripts for recorded video remarks.
As part of my internship, I took a GW Honors Program course writing academic papers on speechwriting at the Department of Justice. School of Media and Public Affairs Professor Lee Huebner, a former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, graciously agreed to be my faculty advisor and he helped me focus my research on former Attorney General Holder’s rhetoric surrounding race.
This internship opportunity also helped me pursue my academic interests in the process of message crafting and targeting audiences to achieve desired outcomes. Getting to see which quotes from the speeches made it into tweets and press releases gave me a firsthand look at how policy becomes language.
My time at the department also helped me better understand the workings of a large government agency’s Office of Public Affairs and the unique nature of speechwriting. In particular, I came to understand the vital importance of editing as central to the speechwriting process. Unlike other communications or writing jobs, speechwriters spend a majority of their time in front of a computer screen, writing, rewriting, editing, and rewriting some more.
The most rewarding part of my internship was the opportunity to attend video filming sessions where the Attorney General read from scripts I had worked on. As a speechwriting intern, I felt that I was able to play a role, however small, in helping the Department of Justice carry out its mission to enforce the law, ensure public safety and “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”