Yes. It was definitely plagiarism, but…
Moments after Melania Trump gave a riveting speech about being a legal immigrant, focusing on American-family values and being honest, it appeared that she had overwhelmingly made the case that Donald Trump should be our next president.
Then there was the seven percent. Ninety-three percent of her speech was original. But the portion about family values, honesty and integrity appeared to be almost identical to a speech given on a similar stage by Michelle Obama in 2008. How did this happen?
Most politicians use speechwriters for their live events and ghostwriters for their books. This process usually starts with an interview. The ghostwriter or speechwriter will ask what topics the candidate wishes to be their focus. At the end of the interview, the ghostwriter (or staff of writers) retreats to their desk to begin formulating a narrative that will have the most powerful impact on the audience (or reader). They conduct research, discuss the speech with senior staff and then ultimately deliver a final manuscript for the candidate to review.
Most writers won't admit this but a lot of what we say is a correlation of what we have seen. We usually know what we want to say but sometimes need help in determining how to say it. In 2016, we turn to Google (or similar sources) where millions of pages of web content appear regarding a subject such as ‘family values.’ My theory is that the speechwriter simply Googled some phrases to come up with ideas and landed on quotes by Michelle Obama where they were not sourced.
That speechwriter, Meredith McIver, came forward on Wednesday admitting that she did not check Mrs. Obama’s speeches when she included the text into Melania’s speech.
In an age of 24-hour media, smartphones and social media it’s impossible for someone to have a truly original idea. Most of what we see and say is an evolution of the thoughts that already exist. We should be less concerned about plagiarism in a small portion of her speech and more concerned about what the hysteria represents about our country.
We operate in an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Melania gave a powerful, meaningful speech that far exceeded the audience’s expectations. The following day the attention was given, not to the power behind the message, but to the seven percent that appeared to be very similar to the words of Michelle Obama. In other words, this phenomenon reflects a society of people who judge others not on the totality of their accomplishments but solely by their last mistake. We don’t judge the spirit of the message any longer. We judge the words. This is best described as not being able “to see the forest for the trees.”
Donald Trump has faced this phenomenon throughout his ascent to the Republican nomination. Millions of people have judged a sentence or phrase, taken out of context, without hearing the totality or meaning of what he was saying. I call them the “be nice” crowd. On the surface, they lived a perfect life, use perfect grammar and never say a bad word to anyone's face. The moment you say something polarizing, make a grammatical error or challenge societies’ arbitrary standards, they dismiss you as rude, unprofessional or radical.
In most cases, I find that this ‘be nice’ person’s actions rarely match their rhetoric. In private, many are destructive, passive-aggressive, cheaters, liars and even crooks.
In Melania’s speech, we heard a powerful story from a legal immigrant and foreign culture who came to America, created her own success and is now potentially the next first lady of the United States. The deduction we should make from this story is that if you integrate into our culture, possess a sense of love for it and respect our traditions, you have no limits. Instead, many have ignored the positive message in favor of turning the moment into a soap opera.
The media has been quick to label Donald Trump and his followers as Xenophobic. I can’t imagine anything more Xenophobic than ignoring this woman’s story and hiding behind a different label: plagiarism. After all, that's not the ‘be nice’ way to do it.
McIver says she “didn’t check Mrs. Obama’s speeches. That was my fault.” I believe what actually happened is probably a little more complex: McIver likely searched for passages about family values and landed on a website that had phrases from the Obama speech. The speechwriter probably decided to use those phrases not realizing they were from Obama. In her admission letter she stated, “no harm was meant.” I do believe that.
The speechwriter offered her resignation and it was rejected by the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump told her, “People make innocent mistakes but we learn and grow from these experiences.” I was always told that the worst time to fire someone was in the wake a major mistake because you’ve just made a huge investment into someone’s education. By firing them you’ll never realize a return on that investment.
So, Melania used Michelle’s Obama’s phrasing on family values and integrity. Let’s hope Melania holds her husband accountable to those standards as president unlike Michelle Obama.