The video makes it pretty clear:
So that’s pretty blatant, right? pic.twitter.com/EPnHME7afV
— Mike Hearn (@mikehearn) July 19, 2016
Still, seems like the big news outlets aren’t quite willing to call it plagiarism yet:
- “Melania Trump’s Speech Bears Striking Similarities to Michelle Obama’s in 2008” says The New York Times.
- “Melania Trump Republican Convention Speech Bears Striking Similarities to Michelle Obama Address” says NBC News.
- “Melania Trump Echoes Michelle Obama in Convention Speech” says Bloomberg News.
Let’s be honest: those aren’t “echoes,” they’re the exact same words.
Presumably the papers are protecting themselves against libel lawsuits, maybe based on the definition of plagiarize. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it means “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own” while the American Heritage Dictionary says “To reproduce or otherwise use (the words, ideas, or other work of another) as one’s own or without attribution.” (Bolding ours.) The former seems to suggest nefarious intent, while the latter suggests merely usage without attribution.
However you want to present it, there can be no doubt that the words are nearly verbatim. Ironically, the passages are so identical that it makes it more likely that the borrowing was accidental rather than done with a purposeful intent to steal in secret. Surely nobody could expect to copy so exactly and not have it noticed — by Michelle Obama and her speechwriters, if by nobody else. (In fact, it was first noted almost immediately by out-of-work journalist Jarrett Hill.)
A more likely explanation is that Melania Trump’s speechwriters (or Trump herself) looked back at Michelle Obama’s speech for inspiration and later found themselves writing the same words accidentally. It’s also possible that they cut-and-pasted parts of Obama’s speech into their own first draft, intending to later replace the passages with similar-but-different rhetoric. That would be lazy, but not technically plagiarism if they actually made the changes… except they didn’t.
Given the many reports of disorganization and confusion within the Donald Trump campaign, it wouldn’t even be too surprising to find out that the copying was done on purpose by someone (Melania or otherwise) who simply thought that using the same words was no big deal.
Turns out it’s a pretty big deal.
James Fallows, writer for The Atlantic and former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, has an excellent take on what it means. He is sympathetic to Melania Trump (“Anyone with experience in politics, or life, has to cut Melania Trump some slack for the performance she put on”) but says that the blunders “make the Trump campaign look seriously bad.”
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) July 19, 2016
[Update: The NY Daily News, not so sympathetic, is enjoying itself today.]