Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Melania Trump's plagiarized speech ignites media firestorm

The NY Times has a lengthy account of the accusation of plagiarism leveled against Melania Trump for the similarity between her speech last night (Monday) and that of Michele Obama to Democrats in 2008.

Let's start with the definition.

plagiarism ˈplājəˌrizəm/


the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.

synonyms: copying, infringement of copyright, piracy, theft, stealing

From the NY Times, here are the relevant passages with critical text highlighted in bold.

Ms. Trump, Monday night:

From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Mrs. Obama, in her 2008 speech:

“Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

Ms. Trump:

“I was born in Slovenia, a small, beautiful and then-Communist country in Central Europe. My sister, Ines, who is an incredible woman and a friend, and I were raised by my wonderful parents. My elegant and hard-working mother, Amalija, introduced me to fashion and beauty. My father, Viktor, instilled in me a passion for business and travel. Their integrity, compassion and intelligence reflects to this day on me and for my love of family and America.”

Mrs. Obama, in 2008:

“And I come here as a daughter — raised on the South Side of Chicago by a father who was a blue-collar city worker and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me. My mother’s love has always been a sustaining force for our family, and one of my greatest joys is seeing her integrity, her compassion and her intelligence reflected in my own daughters.”

Observe: intention is not included in the definition of plagiarism, and neither is quantity of the text in question. Also not included is the motive of anyone who might call attention to the copying. And that brings us to the responses from Trump's supporters with snippets from the Times' report.

Christie: 93% wasn't copied ... so therefore 7% was?

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a staunch ally of Mr. Trump who was recently passed over to be his running mate, played down the situation while noting that parts of the speech were duplicative.

Asked on NBC’s “Today” show if the remarks constituted plagiarism, Mr. Christie said, “Nah, not when 93 percent of the speech is completely different than Michelle Obama’s speech.”

Manafort: Hillary is to blame

Deflecting questions about the passages themselves, Mr. Manafort instead attacked Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, for what he claimed was an effort to draw attention to the matter.

“This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks out to demean her and take her down,” Mr. Manafort said. “It’s not going to work against Melania Trump.”

A memo sent to Trump campaign staff members instructed them to stick to Mr. Manafort’s response, but surrogates for Mr. Trump mused aloud on Tuesday about what might have happened, raising questions about fissures within his team and allowing the controversy to drag on.

Who cares?

As a result of my career in academic research and teaching, I care about plagiarism. I've seen a candidate for a university presidency lose the job because of a documented plagiarized speech. I've seen faculty members lose their jobs because of plagiarism. And I've awarded bad grades to students for that offense. If you are all in on truth and fact, then you must abhor plagiarism.

But does anyone else care? Not Trump supporters. Trump supporters talked on video to Mother Jones about their reactions. In brief: she did nothing wrong because she's a mother, a wife, a great talker, and we all do it. And, of course, it's a conspiracy of Hillary and the media. You need to watch those amazing rationalizations.

"Someone took this piece [by Michele Obama] and plugged in their own information," said Jarrett Hill, a journalist who first noticed the plagiarism. (New York Times) Scriber thinks this is symptomatic of the Culture of Trump. Honesty is not prized.

Lauren McCauley, staff writer at commondreams.org, agrees: "Trump Campaign Chair Lays Blame on Melania for Plagiarized Speech." "Follows a pattern set by the Trump campaign of ignoring truth and accountability."

When confronted with his own dishonesty, Trump just steam-rolls his way forward, or bullies his accusers into silence. Why would Trump, the least honest politician in modern times, behave any differently now? Why would his campaign staff admit to mistakes like this when Trump does not? And why would his Trumpist supporters behave with anymore integrity than their leader?

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