Mrs Trump accused of ‘outrageous’ plagiarism

Copy cat? ‘I read once over it... I wrote it with as little help as possible,’ said Melania.

Melania Trump has been slammed for lifting chunks of her latest speech from Michelle Obama. But she finds herself in the company of Martin Luther King, TS Eliot, and Barack Obama himself...

Her husband had fought a long campaign to be nominated for president, defying the predictions of pundits and using social media to stir up support. On the eve of his official nomination, she addressed his party about the ‘values’ she learned from her parents: ‘that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say… that you treat people with respect.’

So are we talking about Michelle Obama in 2008, or Melania Trump in 2016?

Well, both. And both women went on to tell the crowds that these values must be passed on to the next generation, so that children know their ‘only limit’ is the strength of their dreams and their ‘willingness to work for them’.

Among the crowds of the Republican Convention, the Slovenian model’s speech was a hit. But as journalists began to point out the glaring similarities, opinion on social media quickly turned against her. ‘I have a dream’ wrote the actor Jesse Williams, followed by the hashtag #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes.

But then, Martin Luther King has been accused of plagiarism in the very speech Williams was quoting. And when Michelle made her original speech, Barack Obama had recently brushed off accusations that he had plagiarised his friend Deval Patrick. Trump’s former presidential rival, Ben Carson, printed sections in his book which had been copied directly from the site socialismsucks.net.

These figures largely got away with it. But not all politicians are so lucky — in 1987 Joe Biden was forced to drop out of the presidential race after plagiarising then-leader of the Labour Party Neil Kinnock. ‘I do not understand what the big deal is,’ he complained at the time. He is now Obama’s vice president.

The scholar Brian Martin blames a world of ghostwriters and staff briefings for the ‘institutionalised plagiarism’ of Washington. Others argue that it is inevitable when speeches are rewarded for being repetitive and familiar. Is plagiarism always wrong regardless?

You couldn’t make it up

It doesn’t matter, say frustrated politicians. This isn’t school, where plagiarism is dishonest. It is politics — what matters are the convictions behind the words and the actions which follow. Who cares who wrote Melania Trump’s speech? The real question is, are she and her husband really committed to the ‘respect’ and honesty she claims to value?

It does matter, say critics. Plagiarism reveals a lazy willingness to mislead the public, while depriving the true writer of the credit they deserve. It is appalling behaviour from people who are hoping to lead the country. Even if Melania was unaware of the issue — it may have been the work of a speechwriter — she should now condemn it and apologise.

You Decide

  1. Is there ever any excuse for plagiarism?
  2. Will the accusations of plagiarism damage Donald Trump’s campaign?

Activities

  1. Compare the five accusations of plagiarism in this story, including the four detailed in the Word Watch below. Rank them by how serious you think the incident was.
  2. For one time only, we are giving you permission to plagiarise. Write a short speech which includes a famous quote from a politician, but which gives it a new meaning.

Some People Say...

“Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.”

TS Eliot

What do you think?

Q & A

If all these famous people got away with plagiarism, does that mean I can copy my homework?
Definitely not — it is easy for teachers to spot, and you could quickly find yourself in a lot of trouble. As an excuse, ‘Melania Trump does it’ is even worse than ‘the dog ate it.’ But it is not just about breaking the rules. Copying someone’s work is easy, but empty. It is infinitely more rewarding to find your own voice, and express your own view of the world.
How has Michelle responded to Melania?
At the time of writing, she has kept a cool silence on the subject. But one of Obama’s former speechwriters, Jon Favreau, told Buzzfeed: ‘A stray line or phrase could be a mistake. Two full paragraphs from the current first lady is just incomprehensible... I can’t believe someone would do that to her.’

Word Watch

Republican Convention
An event which marks the end of the nomination stage in the 2016 presidential race, by officially confirming that party’s candidate. This year it is taking place in Cleveland, Ohio.
Martin Luther King
The civil rights leader was accused of copying parts of his famous speech from another pastor, Archibald Carey. Both men had quoted the Samuel Francis Smith hymn America and repeated its line ‘Let freedom ring!’
Barack Obama
In 2008, his rival Hillary Clinton accused him of being ‘just words’. He responded with a speech about the importance of words, quoting several famous speeches. But his quotes were identical to those used in a speech by Patrick. He defended himself, saying ‘[Patrick] suggested we use these lines.’
Ben Carson
The brain surgeon published a whole paragraph copied from the site in his book America The Beautiful in 2012.
Joe Biden
‘Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?’ asked Neil in 1987. Four months later, from Biden: ‘why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?’