Politics, Plagiarism and the Press

To be honest, I could care less about the Trumps, or the Clintons for that matter. From my perspective, this is going to be a lousy election year. But that being said, the amount of attention that a single, stupid, and seemingly-insignificant speechwriter gaffe is generating in the press and social media these days is enough to make me want to hurl. (Although I will admit to finding #FamousMelianaTrumpQuotes pretty amusing; almost as much fun as #BrianWilliamsMisremembers.)

In case you've been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, the following article should catch you up on what happened at the Republican National Convention (RNC) yesterday; Melania Trump's speechwriter lifted a handful of phrases from a speech by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) eight years ago:

The Melania Trump Plagiarism Scandal

The above article does a good job of pointing out just how much was copied, which amounts to around two paragraphs in which Melania Trump's speech was either substantially copied or paraphrased from Michelle Obama's speech. In my college days, if I had used the same level of copying or paraphrasing in a term paper without proper citation, the best-case scenario is that the entire paper would have been rejected, and the worst-case scenario is that I would have justifiably received an "F" in the class. However, as the above article points out, Melania Trump is not alone in the recent history of presidential campaign plagiarism.

To begin with, and what is most amusing to me, is that the same speech by Michelle Obama at the 2008 DNC leveraged a few phrases from Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" book without proper attribution, although to be honest I think those few phrases were probably added by Michelle's husband since he was a big fan of Alinsky's work. (However, if someone wanted to be as obnoxious as everyone in the press is being today, one could make the argument that Melania Trump's plagiarism is simply carrying on a tradition of campaign speech misappropriation by potential First Ladies which was first established by Michelle Obama.)

Nevertheless, if the gaffe in Michelle Obama's speech was indeed the fault of her husband's, that would not be too surprising, as Barack Obama has often quoted other authors' works in the past without proper attribution. Here are just a few examples:

Obama by the Numbers: Twice-Told Tales, and Nine in a Row

Obama's State of the Union Was Tantamount to Plagiarism

The Obama Plagiarism Scandal

Bush speechwriter accuses Obama of plagiarism in State of the Union

You might be tempted to take the following video with a grain of salt based on its origin, but it does do a good job of showing the levels to which Barack Obama (or his speechwriters) will go when leveraging other people's speeches:

When Obama Plagiarized Speeches from Deval Patrick and John Edwards

And of course, I could go on about John McCain, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and a host of others, but let us not forget Joe Biden, who seems to have made a career out of plagiarism. I love how Joe Biden not only stole material from other people - he actually stole other people's life stories and substituted them for his own. He also fabricated his academic records, and eventually his web of intentional deceit forced him to drop out of the 1988 presidential race. Of course, Biden went on to become the Vice President later, proving to future generations of politicians that outright plagiarism will not necessarily be the end of your career. Nevertheless, here are just a few articles about Biden's many transgressions:

The Write Stuff? Why Biden's plagiarism shouldn't be forgotten.

Biden Admits Errors and Criticizes Latest Report

Biden Admits Plagiarism in School But Says It Was Not 'Malevolent'

The Biden Plagiarism Scandal

All of this is just to say, a lot of people in politics have plagiarized other people, and the frequency with which it occurs does not make it right. However, from where I am standing it seems as though the way in which today's press has latched onto this single incident with such venom while essentially giving a multitude of other offenders a free pass is more than a little lop-sided. I guess we can see which candidate the mainstream media has chosen, as they have done in the past.

To be honest, nothing in this mini-scandal is going to do anything to sway me any more against either candidate; at the moment, the following image seems like my best option. And just to make sure that I give credit where it is due, I am pointing out - for the record - that I plagiarized it from someone else.

Giant Meteor 2016





The following information was interesting, albeit somewhat outside the original scope of the blog, so I intentionally omitted it from my main narrative. However, I thought that it was worth adding to the end of this post. In an odd turn of events, Barack Obama has also been accused in the past of plagiarizing from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who in turn was guilty of plagiarizing other people:

Boston U. Panel Finds Plagiarism by Dr. King

So the saga of Melania Trump quoting Michelle Obama who quoted Saul Alinsky has a rich tradition in politics. Perhaps nothing is original anymore?

Open-mouthed smile

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