Thursday, June 30, 2016

Trump Institute sold plagiarized materials to customers

The New York Times reports on how people paid thousands of dollars to the now defunct Trump Institute for get-rich-quick materials that had been copied verbatim from a publication 10 years earlier.

I'll continue in a moment but, as a former academic researcher, I must tell you that plagiarism in the realm of research is a cardinal sin. As B. F. Skinner put it in Science and Human Behavior, "the practice of science puts an exceptionally high premium on honesty. It is characteristic of science that any lack of honesty quickly brings disaster." Plagiarism, the filching of someone else's words, is anathema.

In this campaign, Trump has been the least honest politician - ever. PolitiFact concludes "no other politician has as many statements rated so far down the dial. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen."

So it should not be surprising that the inherent, pathological dishonesty spills over into ventures that rely on Trump's name and fame for their success - where success is defined as bilking its customers out of their money.

Unbeknownst to customers at the time, though, even the printed materials handed out to seminar attendees were based on a lie. The Trump Institute copyrighted its publication, each page emblazoned with “Billionaire’s Road Map to Success,” and it distributed the materials to those who attended the seminars.

At least 20 pages of the Trump Institute book were copied entirely or in large part from “Real Estate Mastery System.” Even some of its hypothetical scenarios — “Seller A is asking $80,000 for a single-family residence” — were repeated verbatim. [Scriber: See the Times' report for yellow highlighter markups of an example of the plaigiarism.]

Asked about the plagiarism, which was discovered by the Democratic “super PAC” American Bridge, the editor of the Trump Institute publication, Susan G. Parker, denied responsibility and suggested that a lawyer for the Milins [owners of the institute], who provided her with background material for the book, might have been to blame.

The lawyer, Peter Hoppenfeld, who no longer represents the Milins, said Ms. Parker was most likely at fault but acknowledged forwarding her information from the Milins’ office. Reached at her home in Boca Raton, Fla., Irene Milin told a reporter, “I’m very busy,” and hung up. She did not answer subsequent calls or respond to a voice mail message.

[Alan Garten, Mr. Trump’s in-house counsel] said Mr. Trump was “obviously” not aware of the plagiarism. But even while playing down Mr. Trump’s link to the Trump Institute, calling it a “short-term licensing deal,” Mr. Garten expressed pride in the venture. “I stand by the curriculum that was taught at both Trump University and Trump Institute,” he said.

[Pride? Really?]

Ms. Parker, a lawyer and legal writer in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., said that far from being handpicked by Mr. Trump, she had been hired to write the book after responding to a Craigslist ad. She said she never spoke to Mr. Trump, let alone received guidance from him on what to write. She said she drew on her own knowledge of real estate and a speed-reading of Mr. Trump’s books.

Ms. Parker said she did venture to one of the Trump Institute seminars — and was appalled: The speakers came off like used-car salesmen, she said, and their advice was nothing but banalities. “It was like I was in sleaze America,” she said. “It was all smoke and mirrors.”

Check out the Times' report for background on the Institute and how it operated.

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