Politics July 19, 2016: Melania Trump’s political plagiarism scandal is not the first, and not the last

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Melania Trump’s political plagiarism scandal is not the first, and not the last


Did Melania Trump really plagiarize Michelle Obamas 2008 Democratic convention speech?

By Bonnie K. Goodman

It was supposed to be presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump’s wife, Melania’s big campaign debut, instead, it descended into controversy, as does everything in the Trump campaign. On Monday evening, July 18, 2016, Melania Trump gave the keynote address on the first night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Introduced by her husband, Melania’s job was to humanize Trump, who has been caricatured for much of his career and the campaign. Instead, her big moment was overshadowed by the similarities of two paragraphs with First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech and accusations of plagiarism.

Both Melania and Michelle’s passages in their speeches emphasized family values imbued by their parents and passing them to the next generation. The themes were similar and also common for the type of convention speech. Although the words were similar, the sentences were for the most part different with some similar points, and certain keywords, possibly invoking the paraphrasing or copying for verbatim debate. Only one phrase was copied verbatim, “your dreams and your willingness to work for them.” Plagiarism is described as “The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”

According to Harvard University‘s Faculty of Arts and Science “In academic writing, it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper. It doesn’t matter whether the source is a published author, another student, a Web site without clear authorship, a Web site that sells academic papers, or any other person: Taking credit for anyone else’s work is stealing, and it is unacceptable in all academic situations, whether you do it intentionally or by accident.” Harvard also lists different types of plagiarism, which include” “verbatim, mosaic, inadequate paraphrasing, uncited paraphrase, uncited quotations.” The only exception according to Harvard is “common knowledge.”

Melania’s speech excerpt read:

“My parents impressed on me the values: that you work hard for what you want in life. That your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise. That you treat people with respect. They taught me to show the values and morals in my daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

To compare here is Michelle’s speech from 2008:

“And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

Almost immediately, after Melania delivered her speech, a journalist specializing in interior design and not politics, Jarrett Hill called Melania out on Twitter accusing her of plagiarism. In his tweet, Hill wrote, “Melania must’ve liked Michelle Obama’s 2008 Convention speech since she plagiarized it.” Hill, who is African-American, has a history of Trump bashing and is a fan of the Obamas, already, had a biased view of the situation. Still, the news media picked up on the story, and it swept through a media who already negatively bashes Trump and his rhetoric and policy positions. Melania’s similar words just was another chance for criticism.

Just as quickly Trump’s campaign denied the accusation. Senior communications adviser Jason Miller issued a statement after the accusations, which read, “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. Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”

According to the campaign, chairman Paul Manafort appearing on CNN’s “New Day” telling Chris Cuomo that the allegation is “just really absurd.” Manafort dismissed the claims, saying, “To think that she would do something like that knowing how scrutinized her speech was going to be last night is just really absurd.” Continuing Manafort explained, “There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values. She cares about her family. To think that she’d be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.”

Manafort then, in turn, blamed presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Trump campaign manager made his accusation, saying, “This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks out to demean her and take her down. It’s not going to work.”

According to a Republican close to the situation, recounted the process involved in crafting Melania’s speech. According to the “operative”, several aides edited the speech and gave suggestions to Melania. Manafort approved the speech in the end. The recount contradicts the account from Trump’s wife who claims to have a written the speech herself. Melania revealed to to NBC‘s Matt Lauer, “I read once over it, that’s all, because I wrote it … with (as) little help as possible.” Melania is not facing the brunt of the backlash but rather Trump’s speechwriters and even Manafort, although no one has been fired for the error.

President Obama’s former speechwriter, Jon Favreau, who was partly responsible for Michelle Obama’s speech, did not seem offended or upset by the possibility of plagiarism. After the accusations had started flying, Favreau tweeted and joked, “(To be honest), I was more offended by just about every other speech than Melania’s plagiarized paragraphs.”

The problem is writers, and academics and even students get away with plagiarism all the time. With the vast amount of information on the internet, many believe that it is fair game, especially if it is a blog or non-traditional source. Academics who plagiarize believe they will not be caught because they are taking ideas from someone they deem less educated and less well known. More often than not if someone does not bring the plagiarized passages up the one, who plagiarizes usually gets away with it.

As a writer, I have experienced being plagiarized, from a woman posting an entire article of mine that was an excerpt from my thesis taken verbatim without any credit, with listing it as her own. To a former professor who for years continually liberally borrows my ideas, themes from my articles for his, even phrases but manages to get away with it because they have the doctorate and the professorship although according to Harvard’s definitions what they have done is considered plagiarism.

Just last week in the UK’s the Guardian Higher Education section a writer on the Academic Anonymous blog recounted finding a creative writing Ph.D. dissertation with 100 passages plagiarized verbatim. When the academic discovered the plagiarism reported it to the dissertation advisor at the British university, the professor protected their student by ensuring copies of the dissertation were removed from the university’s library and made unavailable in any other form to the public. Only a year later was the thesis put back on the shelves, but the Ph.D. graduate was never stripped of their degree or even reprimanded for the extensive and blatant plagiarism, in the most important capstone project of their university education.

Melania Trump’s plagiarism case is hardly the first involving politicians that rocked the political world. The most famous case is Vice President Joe Biden who in 1987, had to withdraw from the 1988 Democratic presidential race after it was discovered that he plagiarized a speech with passages from former Democratic candidates Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, and former President John F. Kennedy. Other notable political plagiarism scandals include Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Montana Senator John Walsh, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, and even President Barack Obama.

In 2007, then Democratic candidate Obama lifted some passages from then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s lines from a 2006 speech when he delivered a speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Wisconsin. Rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign revealed what Obama did. Obama dismissed it all as nothing much saying, “Deval and I do trade ideas all the time, and you know he’s occasionally used lines of mine. I would add I’ve noticed on occasion Sen. Clinton has used words of mine as well. As I said before, I really don’t think this is too big of a deal.”

Donald McCabe, a retired business professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, conducted a survey in 2010 and determined a prevalence of cheating and plagiarism among college undergraduate and graduate students.

The following are the results of his survey:

  • 36% of undergraduates and 24% of graduate students admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from Internet source without footnoting it.”
  • 38% of undergraduates and 25% of graduate students admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from written source without footnoting it.”
  • 14% of undergraduates and 7% of graduate students admit to “fabricating/falsifying a bibliography.”
  • 7% of undergraduates 4% of graduate students and admit to copying materials “almost word for word from a written source without citation.”
  • 7% of undergraduates and 3% of graduate students admit to “turning in work done by another.” Finally, 3% of undergraduates and 2% of graduate students admit to “obtaining a paper from term paper mill.”

Another survey conducted in 2011 by the Pew Research Center and The Chronicle of Higher Education asked college presidents about plagiarism and cheating at their respective colleges among students. Of the 1,055 presidents asked, 55 percent said that there had been an increase in plagiarism in the ten preceding years, and they predominately, 89 percent, blamed the internet for rampant cheating.

In this case, Melania or most precisely her speechwriters used a common theme for conventions and wives’ of the running mates but made the mistake of staying too closely to a recent and famous speech from a beloved first lady. Viewed by millions, with enough people opposed to Trump, Melania’s first major foray was bound to be scrutinized.

The moment caught the press the Trump campaign wanted but not for the reasons they wanted. Trump, however, will survive the plagiarism scandal as the world can be forgiving just ask historian Doris Goodwin Kearns and even Joe Biden and Barack Obama, who plagiarized speeches once and still ended becoming a popular vice president and president.

University Musings October 24, 2014: Sexism & Plagiarism in Academia: The Case of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History Election 2004 Project

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EDUCATION & UNIVERSITY MUSINGS

Sexism & Plagiarism in Academia: The Case of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History Election 2004 Project

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The mistreatment of a female writer might turn into a possible case of plagiarism at Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History in Dallas, Texas in their Election 2004 project. SMU’s Presidential History Center has coerced submissions to their upcoming Election 2004 website project on the presidential campaign. They accepted entries, were completely satisfied with the writing, but then after refused to publish the author’s articles and give the author credit, using a ridiculous excuse unrelated to the actual entries or quality of writing, paid this author off, and then intend to hire someone to write the same entries, presumably from the model of the original author’s work. I know this going to happen, because I was the author taken advantage of in this situation. I am a woman, do not have a PhD or university affiliation, therefore I was an easy target.

This past spring I answered a call to write entries for Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History’s Election 2004 project on the presidential campaign and election. I was in contact with Dr. Brian Franklin, the project head and associate director. I was selected to write the entries on the Democratic National Convention and Ralph Nader, and then I was offered to write about John Kerry because in Dr. Franklin’s words I “seem[ed] so keen (and experienced!) on writing.” In the intervening time between accepting to work on the project and the deadline for submission I had a family emergency; the ongoing situation set me behind in my work, I had promised to get the entries in by the end of June, but I could not.

During the summer months, I thought Dr. Franklin might have gotten someone else to write those entries, but then out of nowhere he emailed me on Sept. 9 appealing to me if I could still send the entries in, telling me he wants to me to submit them because as he wrote, “you have got so much great writing experience.” I sent two of them, the Kerry and DNC entries, to which Dr. Franklin told me “extremely thorough!” in an email on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. The only problem, I was having trouble was shortening the entries, I felt in doing so I would depriving them of vital information and watering them too much considering the importance of the topics. I told Dr. Franklin this when I sent the revised entries and the one on Ralph Nader on Sept. 21, 2014. It should not have been news to Dr. Franklin that I wrote long articles, I routinely write feature length articles, and of the over 400 articles I have written for Examiner.com I have written only a handful are less than 1000 words.

Then to my surprise two days later, Dr. Franklin, tells me he would have to wait and see until November if he intends to even use the entries. I obviously felt like a fool, I was not even intending to continue to participate in the project, I was intending to use the entries I had written for my own blog. Then out of the blue, Dr. Franklin emails me, tells me the first two entries I sent were good, and tricked me to write and submit the third entry. After he received all my work, three different versions of the entries at varying lengths and my research, which he can neatly edit and alter and then not give me author credit, he tells me he might not use them and will not pay me until he decides.

I responded and told him how I felt about CPH using my research and my “thorough” articles. As Dr. Franklin had previously agreed with me, there is very limited information on the 2004 campaign. It ranks as one of the most insignificant presidential campaigns in history, except for President Barack Obama’s entry onto the public stage at the DNC and the results little else is even remembered. It is because of the limited sources on the campaign that makes it so easy to plagiarize my work. Any rewrites he does or has anybody do now that he has my work will be close to plagiarism. In the end, I sacrificed the quality of the content and edited the entries to the exact requested word limit, to which Dr. Franklin seemed satisfied, and agreed to use them and pay me for my work.

Everything was fine until the Ebola outbreak, I did not want to receive mail from Dallas, Texas while there was a panic there, the fact that SMU is so close to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, made me more uneasy. Why should I living in Canada be concerned and involved in this issue so far away? Dr. Franklin told me the check would come from Oregon, but I was nervous as millions of Americans are about the outbreak, and since the payment information had been I already been transferred to the accounts payable office, I emailed them asked where exactly the check would be coming from. It was not something I did to be offensive; I had a concern especially at the height of this issue, as did millions of Americans.

Dr. Franklin seemed to take great offense by this. Even though since then there has been more Ebola cases since then and everyone was in a panic or at the very least concerned about this issue. On Oct. 6, Dr. Franklin writes me “Finally, considering the correspondence that we have had thus far, I believe it is in our best interest to part ways at this point. Therefore, I want to inform you that we will not be publishing your articles on our website.” Although I was “paid” for my work, I was told I and everyone writing entries for the project held the copyright to their work, which is what makes the possibility of plagiarism even more offensive. I feel being paid was meant to hush me not to make an issue of not being published and given credit for my work, but as all authors the writing credit and being published is what matters the most.

I personally believe when Dr. Franklin emailed me in September he had no intention of publishing my entries giving me an author credit, he just wanted my research and writing because of “my great writing experience.” From the minute I submitted them he started saying he would not publish them, why probably, because I do not have a PhD, I am not a professor, and I am a women he thinks it makes it more easier to treat me this way. His decision to not publish my entries has nothing to do with any communication I had with him, and as I told him, as long as the work is good, he should include my entries in the project. Dr. Franklin or CPH does not have to hire me again, but neither does they have to behave in such unprofessional matter, insult and make a fool of me. It is hard not to presume the worst, Dr. Franklin wanted me to submit all three entries and then when they were perfect and complete, he decides he will not publish them. How can I not feel that my writing was going to be altered, the research modified and used, but someone else given the author credit. No one would ever believe any doctorate needs to plagiarize off someone with only a master’s degree, so it is safe to do it.

I even contacted the Director of the Center for Presidential History, Jeffrey Engel about this issue and any possible plagiarism. I had known Professor Engel, he is one of the last professors I included on the Top Young Historians feature in 2010, I edited while working at the History News Network. As the chief decision maker of the feature, I decided to include Professor Engel on the list. The email, I received on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014 was an attempt to assure me my work would not be plagiarized, writing “this simply will not happen” and  that “I will nonetheless personally oversee their final work in order to assure that there can be, as you put it, “no hint” of plagiarism.” Still my entries would not be included in the project, why, no answer was given, it certainly was not because of my writing,

How can I believe them that my writing will not be copied in any way, shape or form. I was approached, tricked into submitting all three entries, then even before I said or could do anything wrong there was insinuations that my work would not be used with my name as the author. The sources are limited, even if there will be no word for word plagiarism, with all three versions at their disposable, paraphrasing, using the same sources is all considered plagiarism. If not Rick Perlstein would not be locked into controversy over the use of the same sources and quotes in his book “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan” as in Craig Shirley’s “The Reagan Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All.” In addition, I was paid to keep me satisfied and presumably quiet. How can I not believe if I was paid, they are going to pay someone and not use something from the work they paid me for, nobody pays someone for work if they do not plan to use it. The events are even more surprising given that the SMU is the home of President George W. Bush’s library, museum  and presidential center, why would a department at the university even attempt such a thing. Even the smell of plagiarism or any academic misconduct accusation would be an embarrassment for the entire institution.

This is not the first time my work would be used without being given the proper author credit or treated fairly because I was a woman without a PhD. In the fall of 2009, I worked for a former professor of mine, who was the latest editor working on the fourth edition of Fred L. Israel, and Arthur Meier Schlesinger’s “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008.” I worked on writing and researching the overviews and chronologies, which was the biggest addition to this new edition besides entries on the 2004 and 2008 campaigns. It was four months of grueling hell, working sweatshop hours, typing until my figures bled; it destroyed my health. This professor remained coy, but alluded that I would be given a contributor credit. When I asked, he kept saying he could not confirm contributor credit with the editor at the publisher Facts on File until I finished the work, but used the credit as motivation to complete the project.

In the end, I was never given that writer credit, instead receiving a little line in the acknowledgements, with the words, “Bonnie Goodman undertook the Herculean task of compiling the first drafts of the impressive election overviews and chronologies.” Would I have been so undermined if I had been a man or a PhD, probably not. This same professor often took my ideas from private conversations to use in his own work, op-eds, projects, etc, where I was never attributed or quoted. Years after I no longer speak to him, he is writing a book about a topic, Bill Clinton and the 1990s I told him to write about it back in 2001 when I was only an undergraduate and I conducted research for him on his biography of Hilary Clinton. I mentioned it again when he wrote a similar styled book on Ronald Reagan and the 1980s. I even did extra research for him in 2001, collecting primary sources on the topic, which I am certain he is using and of course I will not be given any credit for my role.

Even when I was the Editor / Features Editor at HNN, History News Network, I was subjected to unfair treatment, because I was a woman without a PhD. While I edited the popular and well respected feature Top Young Historians, I edited a number of other features History Buzz and History Doyens, but in 2007 I was no longer writing articles, as I had in my first year as an intern, when I contributed nearly 20 articles. I yearned to write, but when I asked the editor-in-chief he told me I could not write op-eds for HNN, because I did not have a PhD. Neither did the editor for that matter, he dropped out of the history doctorate program at Harvard University in the late 1970s, without receiving even an MA, but he worked as journalist, wrote best-selling history books, all without the degree.

At that time, I had already had my Masters in Library and Information Studies, and done three additional years of graduate work, instead I was relegated to write the “On This Day in History” feature, because it was based on facts, but no opinion. As anyone writing for Examiner.com knows, you do not have to have a PhD to write your opinions; in fact, most editorial writers do not have doctorates. Fast forward three years to 2010, despite my contributions to HNN, and my masthead ranking second under the editor-in-chief, I see myself being replaced by a college junior, who obviously did not even have a bachelors degree, never mind, PhD. Why did it not matter then, why was he later allowed to write opinion pieces, and articles, become the editor of the entire website publication without a doctorate or even being a graduate student, the difference he was a man and a woman. My whole time at HNN, I was the token female on the editorial staff, HNN has been always for the most part a good old boys club.

My experiences shed light on how PhD and professors in academia take advantage of writers who although experts in their areas do not have a doctorate. I am librarian, a journalist, an editor and a historian who considers herself an independent scholar. It is difficult to gain respect in the academic world enough as a women, one without the golden degree, it is impossible. When I was in library school a professor of mine constantly discussed the disrespect professors had for librarians, including him, even though he had a PhD and the Master Library Science degree and in reality was the more educated one, there is a natural condescension for librarians in the university hierarchy; I already have that against me.

Despite the fact the more women are graduating with doctorates in the humanities now, there is still sexism in the profession. Men because they are losing supremacy, try even more to dominate, intimate, and use women. For all feminism’s fight for equality between the sexes, that goal has still yet to be reached. More women have to speak up and tell what is going on, or else in the future places like Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History will think they can mistreat women and attempt plagiarism just because they think they can get away with it, without anybody ever finding out.

NOTE: The content of this article is based on my personal experiences, names are left out to preserve the privacy of the persons I am speaking about, however, if required, emails can be produced to prove the contents of this article.  

University Musings October 21, 2014: Sexism in Academia: The Case of Southern Methodist University Election 2004 site

EDUCATION BUZZ

EDUCATION & UNIVERSITY MUSINGS

Sexism in Academia: The Case of Southern Methodist University Election 2004 site

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The mistreatment of a female writer might turn into a possible case of plagiarism at Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History in Dallas, Texas in their Election 2004 project. SMU’s Presidential History…October 21, 2014…READ MORE
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