Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It’s plagiarism

The New York Times headline is so tactful: “Melania Trump’s Speech Bears Striking Similarities to Michelle Obama’s in 2008.” Striking similarities, yes. It’s plagiarism. The Trump campaign denies it, saying that Ms. Trump’s speech was a matter of “common words and values.” Common words, one after another after another.

Barring sabotage by a disgruntled speechwriter, I can think of three possible defenses:

Ms. Trump (or her speechwriter) had been so moved by Ms. Obama’s speech that whole sentences somehow stuck in memory, to be reproduced as if original.

Because she was giving a speech, Ms. Trump was quoting and paraphrasing without quotation marks or endnotes.

Ms. Trump (or her speechwriter) doesn’t understand persnickety academic or journalistic protocols when working with sources.
Please understand: I have heard some extraordinarily far-fetched defenses of plagiarism. “I read the Cliffs Notes, but I didn’t buy them!” “I was taught to memorize whole pages from this intro text on literary theory!” The three defenses I have imagined here seem to me wholly implausible.

A possible explanation (not defense) of this plagiarism: it’s the Dunning-Kruger effect at work. Many plagiarists lack the competence to understand how easy it is for a discerning audience to detect their plagiarism.

The Times quotes a statement from a Trump spokesman:
“In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking.”
“Included fragments”: well, that’s plagiarism.

Related reading
All OCA plagiarism posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Berit said...

I just cannot see how the "similarities" (plagiarism) could have been unintentional on the part of Trump's camp. Michelle Obama's speech is too recent and too "near" (e.g. "My husband's trying to be the US president for the first time, and now is when I get out here and really bolster his momentum with a fabulous speech.") to have been accidentally "referenced". As a friend said to me by phone today, "It's not like she plagiarized Maime Eisenhower!"

Even assuming she wrote it entirely by herself, the same "zingers" that tipped off the laid-off Starbucks lurker who broke the story--wouldn't they have smacked Trump's people in the face during vetting and sent them to double check for--if not plagiarism--too-close a similarity to "the competition"? OR, really, from the start, the objective is to make Michelle's speech and have it leave a similar impression and result. Because they are trying to manufacture lightning, they will start by reverse-engineering same and other recent successful specimens.

If accidental plagiarism is off the table, then that leaves only intentional action--but why?

Michael Leddy said...

The only thing I can think of is deliberate sabotage by a speechwriter or the kind of incompetence that comes with the Dunning-Kruger effect, as when students don’t expect their plagiarism to be recognized.