JAMES MCGREEVEY, "STATE HOUSE CONFESSION" (12 August 2004):
TEACHING AND LEARNING MATERIALS

Classroom Activities

A. What were McGreevey's goals in this speech?  Discuss what phrases, arguments, or images influenced your response.

 

B. The media never could decide if McGreevey's speech was a confession or not. Do you think it is? Why or why not?

 

C. Do you think McGreevey should have revealed his sexuality at the same time he resigned his governorship? Should the two disclosures be related? Are they both confessions?

 

D. Listen to McGreevey's speech online. You can find it here: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jamesmcgreeveyresignation.htm. How would you describe his tone?  Was it appropriate for the speech?  What changes, if any, could he have made to make the delivery more effective? What sort of audience would connect with this tone of voice? Why do you think so many people thought the speech was so eloquent?

 

E. Would it change your opinion of the speech if you knew that McGreevey specifically instructed his wife to smile during the announcement? (He did.)

 

F. In his memoir, McGreevey claims that he composed the speech extemporaneously a few hours before he gave it. He announced, "This is what I want to say," and had his aides take notes. Do you believe this? Does it change your opinion of the speech?

 

G. McGreevey has become well known for his religious language. In a speech given on the occasion of his resignation, he explicitly invoked the Christian Bible as his guide in confession. Do you think the religious language hurt him or helped him? Would you use religious language if you were in a similar situation?

 

H. McGreevey invokes a wide range of literary figures in his confessions. While the State House speech doesn't include any, his resignation speech and his memoir are chock-full of literary allusions: Hobbes, Dostoevsky, Kant, Burke, Freud, Weber, Mill, Dorothy Day, Antonin Scalia, Caesar, Lincoln, Sir Thomas More, Edmund Wilson, a few desert monks, Victor Frankl, Sister Anthony--to name a few. With such a penchant for name-dropping, why don't you think McGreevey mentioned anyone in his State House speech? Should a confession invoke these figures?

 

I. McGreevey's State House speech has been called eloquent over and over again. Even people who disliked the speech often described it as eloquent. What do you think this praise is referring to? What sentences or aspects of the confession do you find to be "eloquent"?

 

J. What was McGreevey assuming about his audience?

 

K. Why do you think that the speech attracted so much attention from so many different people, organizations, and media outlets?  Who do you think was McGreevey's target audience and how does that help to explain how various audiences responded to the speech?

 

L. What reasons does McGreevey provide for his resignation? Are these reasons satisfactory to you? Do you think he should have resigned?

 

M. Do you see a discrepancy between the first half of the speech and the second half of the speech? Does McGreevey's tone change? 

 

N. There has been a vigorous debate within the gay community regarding McGreevey's "heroic" status. Do you think McGreevey should be a hero to the gay community? Why or why not?

 

Student Research

 

A. Using the search terms "McGreevey" and "confession," perform a search on an electronic database (Lexis-Nexis or Proquest) and read at least five newspaper articles from August 2004. Pay attention to the descriptions of McGreevey's performance. What words are used to describe his delivery? Reconstruct the performance as best you can? Based on the newspaper articles, describe McGreevey's speaking style. How might that style affect the content of the confession? Would a different style have been better suited to this particular content?

 

B. Using the same newspaper articles, what do you learn about the audience for McGreevey's confession? Who do you think was McGreevey's target audience, and which audiences' reactions were reported in news coverage of the speech?  Did those audience reactions seem favorable or unfavorable?

 

C. Using the same data bases and the same search terms, read at least five more articles from September of 2006. What additional information about McGreevey is introduced? How does this affect your evaluation of the original confession? How did the press portray McGreevey?  Has the media changed its evaluation of the speech in the two years since it was delivered?  Do you think the media was fair and objective in their evaluation of the speech? What parts of the speech were the media the least compassionate towards? And what parts did they like? What sentences do they quote?

 

D. Using the same databases, do a new search with the terms "homosexuality" and "McGreevey." What was the response of the gay community to McGreevey's announcement? How do these articles affect your opinion of the speech?

 

E. Can you find other examples of politicians or celebrities "coming out" as "gay Americans?" How did McGreevey's "coming out" differ from those other examples, and what might be learned by the comparison.

 

F. Public confessions are the stock-in-trade of public personalities in need of image repair. Find at least two other public confessions. What similarities or differences do you note?

 

G. Read "The Making of a Gay American" in New York Magazine (http://nymag.com/news/politics/21340/). This article is an excerpt from McGreevey's memoir entitled, The Confession. How does this excerpt impact your interpretation of his State-House speech? What, if any, revelations does McGreevey make in this article that should have been made in his State-House speech?

 

H. There is a long-standing debate about the relationship between a confession and an apology. Using the Communication Studies database, Communication and Mass Media Complete, do a search for articles on "apologia" and "confession." What do you learn about the intersections of these two genres of speech?

 

Citizenship Resources

 

A. Has a local public figure confessed to any sort of wrongdoing lately in your local community? The answer is probably "yes." Find a relatively recent example of a local public confession. How did the confession change the media coverage? Did the media force the confession? Was the public confession an effective or responsible means of repairing a public image? What, if anything, did the public figure stand to gain by confessing?

 

B. Try to find a public confession that does not invoke any religious language. No language of "sin," "God," "redemption," etc. Is this confession still a powerful rhetorical tool? Does the power of a public confession to repair a public image depend on its religious language? If you were put into the position of needing to publicly confess, would you use religious language? Why or why not?

 

C. Do a Blog Search (http://blogsearch.google.com/) on "confession." What do you learn about popular understandings of "confession." How do bloggers' conceptions of confession differ from McGreevey's? Which forms of confession do you feel more comfortable with? Is "blogging" itself, by definition, a form of confession?

 

D. Read at least five newspaper articles on a contemporary religious controversy, such as the various sex scandals involving Catholic priests, the role of Evangelical Christians in a presidential campaign, or the views of American religious leaders on Islamic terrorism. Do journalists seem to understand and appreciate the role of religion in American public life?  Do religious organizations in turn seem to have a favorable opinion of the secular media? What, in your opinion, should be the relationship between the media and religious organizations?  And what role should religion play in American public life? 

 

E. What is the current reputation of New Jersey politics? Go learn about the boss-system in New Jersey, pay-to-play politics, and Patronage. The same databases and "New Jersey Politics" as a search term will provide plenty of material to work with.