Two weeks ago I discovered, to my surprise, that I had line-edited an early draft of Glenn Beck’s new novel, “Agenda 21.” Glenn Beck! At the time I was working on it, the manuscript belonged to its actual author, a woman named Harriet Parke, who lives a few minutes from my aunt. But a year and a few lawyers later, Glenn Beck purchased the right to call himself its creator, and Ms. Parke agreed to be presented as a ghostwriter.
I would be proud to have my name in the acknowledgments of Ms. Parke’s novel. But given that it is printed inside a book bearing Glenn Beck’s name, the work I did is now deeply at odds with who I am as an editor. “Agenda 21″ is going out into the world on Tuesday, Nov. 20, as something decidedly different from the novel I edited. Yes, the story is the same. So are the concepts, the characters and the writing. But the name in the byline — that changes the book’s intent. It changes everything.
If you’re not an urban planner, here’s a crash course on the novel’s eponymous United Nations Agenda 21. It’s a 40-chapter behemoth written in 1993. It lays out non-binding guidelines for promoting economic growth, environmental protection and social equality. Basically, it is a recipe for living within our means today, so that we do not pass along to our children a degraded economy, environment and society. It addresses topics as various as toxic waste, biotechnology, conservation and green transportation, all with the goal of helping poor countries develop economies — in large part, by encouraging wealthy countries to dial back in sensible ways on their consumption of resources.
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