Behind the Scenes: How the board arrived at its editorial about Jaycee Dugard's memoir
A blog post Tuesday about Jaycee Dugard's forthcoming memoir gave Nicholas Goldberg, editor of the Los Angeles Times editorial pages, an idea for an editorial, which he sent off to other members of the editorial board. Here are excerpts from the exchange that ensued, which we're sharing to give you an idea of how the board operates. These discussions usually happen face to face when the board holds its meetings three times a week, but occasionally they're conducted by email, as happened in this case.
Please note: This is just the starting point for an editorial -- the off-the-top thoughts that present the writer with angles to pursue and questions to answer. In other words, don't confuse this banter with the reporting editorial writers put into their pieces.
Nicholas Goldberg kicked off the conversation at 8:50 a.m.
What do people think the news item below? Anything to be said? Obviously, Jaycee Dugard can do anything she wants and we only wish her the best, etc etc, but there’s something sad and strange about a society that encourages a person who has been through such a traumatizing and personal nightmare to -- so quickly -- go public with every detail. For money? For fame? For catharsis? No matter what the reason is, it’s weird. No?
[News item in consideration: Jaycee Dugard's memoir, 'A Stolen Life,' will be published in July]
Michael McGough: 9:03 a.m.
she writes with such honesty and intimacy, that as I read her narrative, I felt like I was in the room with her.
I agree but it would be strange to seem to lecture her on deciding when to tell her story. I like your idea about the publisher and society pressing for this
Karin Klein: 9:26 a.m.
Maybe I'm just another sad, strange member of society, but I'm not bothered by this one. Have been by other "news fame" books, but not this. Of course, that's based on the assumption that she wasn't pushed into doing this, that she's doing it for reasons that work for her. But I wouldn't want to judge that otherwise, even though there were certainly agents hopping up and down urging her to strike while the iron is hot.
While other girls were going to school, going off to college, making a mark on life, Jaycee was deprived of all that, and now has responsibility for children that she would not have chosen to have at the point she did. Her public persona has been that of victim, victim with more than an edge of salaciousness to the whole thing. This is a chance to emerge from that embarrassed privacy, to assert some self-control over a life that has had little to none, and perhaps to have fame based on the image of her as a strong survivor, and one who wrote a book.
This probably would have been a more successful venture--in terms of what valuable insight it would offer readers--had she waited to get more perspective on it. Having read the novel "Room," which is inspired by the Dugard case though quite different in many regards, I'd be interested to know what the transition is like for her children and her parents as well as for her. Maybe five years down the road, she can offer a sequel.
Jon Healey: 9:25 a.m.
I’m not offended either, and I’m not sure we need to weigh in. It’s her life, her speech and her choice; those are three things she didn’t have while the Garridos held her captive.
McGough: 9:30 a.m.
There’s no way the marketing of this book won’t be sensationalistic, but that’s true of all books like this, no?
Goldberg: 9:32 a.m.
I’m interested in knowing what life is like for her too and what captivity was like [...] That’s why the book will be an instant bestseller. And she’ll make a lot of money. And I wouldn’t dream of criticizing her for doing so.
But I don’t think it’ll be good for her or that she’ll “assert self-control” over her life or emerge from embarrassed privacy. That’s Oprah talk. The fact is that our society thrives on these stories of tragedy and violation and she’s no doubt been under enormous pressure to tell the story and she (understandably) wants the millions that will come along with it.
That’s why nothing -- not even the most horrifying personal trauma of the sort that takes years to recover from in therapy and with one’s family – is kept secret anymore.
Jon says: “It’s her choice.” But I don’t really believe that. It’s the way our culture works these days and to me it’s unseemly. Again, I’m not blaming her for doing what people do in these situations; I’m just think the phenomenon is an interesting one and a sad one.
Of course we don’t need to weigh in -- it’s not terribly important -- but people would read about it.
If no one agrees with me, I’ll shut up.
Healey: 9:37 a.m.
Hmmm. Seems like the revelations she would really want to have kept secret -- that she was raped repeatedly [...] -- became public knowledge long ago. The book gives her the chance to be something more in the public’s mind than just a rape victim. That strikes me as a good thing, even if it smacks of armchair psychology.
Klein: 9:42 a.m.
Unless she forged this deal before they had a good idea that they'd get a big settlement from the state, I doubt it was money. $20 million is enough to see most of us [...] through life.
Society's prurient interests, and the push to gratify those interests for money, is unseemly. But I'd read this book. I'd want to know what captivity was like for her and her children, what the world looked like to them, with or without salacious details. And Oprah or not, I think there is tremendous interest for many people in writing a book, especially after they've been through a tough time. It's a chance to do something, to act in some way, and in a way that feels like it matters.
Dan Turner: 9:48 a.m.
It seems a little odd for a newspaper to bemoan public interest in the details of personal tragedies; isn’t that how we make a living?
Carla Hall: 9:49 a.m.
Why all the hand wringing? I think her book will be--or could be--fascinating. I'm dying to hear all the details. She has neither spoken nor appeared publicly, right? We get to hear her story; she gets to make a ton of rightly deserved money. Maybe she gets some catharsis out of it too. Win-win.
Here's the final product based on the morning's discussion:
Her memoir, "A Stolen Life," may give readers insight -- but what will it do for her?
Photo: Cover of "A Stolen Life." Credit: Nancy Seltzer & Associates Inc.