The journalism profession generally considers plagiarism a cardinal sin. There are many, many examples of those previously punished for journalistic plagiarism by suspension, termination or other means.
In the media and academe, plagiarism is most clearly defined as ,”the fabrication of someone else’s work, words or research and passing them off as one’s own,” or, stated another way, “using someone else’s research or ideas without crediting them, and taking passages of prose or distinctive language from someone else’s work and claiming them as one’s own.”
Based on that rubric, whether she wrote her own speech or used a hired speech writer’s version, Mrs. Melania Trump committed plagiarism the first Monday evening of the 2016 Republican National Convention. She and her husband cannot escape that reality by trying to urinate on people and telling them it’s rain. Sometimes a spade is simply a spade.
Mr. Trump’s campaign is now into full-fledged denial mode over the issue. No, she did not use someone else’s pattern of word presentation without attribution, they say. She only used commonly accepted common values and aspirations. First Lady Michelle Obama’s prior usage of those same phrases was purely coincidental, according to the Trump campaign spokespeople. Besides that, Mrs. Obama herself plagiarized those words, the campaign claims, without offering any proof.
Sarah Hurwitz, the professional speech writer who collaborated with Mrs. Obama on that 2008 speech, dismissed that claim out of hand. Mrs. Obama, herself, even said that she had avoided reading or reviewing the speeches of previous first ladies-to-be because at the time, she wanted to focus on personalizing her comments.
Besides, the use of the claim that one should not be blamed for some infraction because everyone else ( or at least others) are doing it or have done it, is a common logical fallacy called Tu Quoque. Certainly, logical fallacies are not new to the Trump campaign, even though logical reasoning itself is. The answer to that tu quoque claim, as it always is, is that we did not catch anyone else committing the infraction—we caught you. Whether Mrs. Trump, or whoever helped her with her speech, used Wikipedia or another source to review the speeches of other first-ladies-to-possibly-be, or whether she intended to copy Michelle Obama’s words, pales to the most relevant point, i.e., Mrs. Trump, in fact, plagiarized part of her speech to the Republican Convention. The word patterns in several passages were replicated verbatim or with only slight one or two word changes from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. As MSNBC commentators said, 26 of 28 words in the speech were the same, and the patterns of usage were the same.
In university classes, when students try to justify plagiarism by claiming they had no intention of stealing someone else’s words or work, as teachers we have to inform them that doing the deed is tantamount to intending to do it. Use of other’s work without attribution, and attempting to gain credit for other’s work as one’s own, is an infraction and intellectual property theft, whether one wants it to be or not.
Mr. Trump is vying for the job as President of the USA. When leadership cannot or simply will not see or accept the blame for mistakes made, even small but important ones like this, to hope for a different result when the stakes are a lot higher, is foolhardy in the extreme. As Oprah Winfrey once famously said (actually, Maya Angelou on Oprah’s show), ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them!’
We believe you, Mr. Trump. We believe you.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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