The media’s obsession with Melania Trump’s so-called “plagiarism” said far less about Melania Trump than about the media. As comparisons between Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech and Melania’s recent address to the Republican National Convention dominated the airwaves, a secret addendum to the Iran deal surfaced. It revealed that Iran will be moving toward constructing a nuclear weapon far sooner than the 15 years the public had been led to believe. But that did not draw the media’s attention.
President Obama released the 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report that had been withheld from the public since its publication in 2004. It raised serious questions about the role of the Saudis in the attack and the involvement of the Saudi government in concealing, funding, and providing intelligence for the terrorists. This too did not draw much airtime.
Seldom has an “alleged” cribbing of phrases drawn so much media attention. Indeed, far more serious acts of alleged plagiarism have drawn far and away less attention. John F. Kennedy’s famous phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” was said to be plagiarized from his headmaster at Choate. Then there was Kennedy’s senior thesis subsequently fashioned into a book, Why England Slept, which was said to be rewritten by New York Times correspondent Arthur Krock, amounting to Krock actually doing the writing.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s plagiarized dissertation was never the stuff of significant media attention. One had to be an aficionado of the Chronicle of Higher Education to even be aware of the issue, which was barely covered in the press. A committee at Boston University found significant portions of the dissertation had been plagiarized, but added that it still made a contribution to scholarship. King’s famous and moving “I Have a Dream” speech resembled the address by black preacher Archibald Carey to the 1952 Republican National Convention. While the speeches are not identical, there are similarities in phraseology.
President Obama copied portions of a speech by Governor Deval Patrick in the 2008 presidential race. Patrick more or less dismissed the allegation, saying they shared ideas.
Hillary Clinton said, “I actually wrote the book… I had to write my own book because I want to stand by every word.” Clinton bragged about being the sole author of It Takes a Village. The boast omits any mention of Barbara Feinman, Hillary’s ghostwriter, who never received an acknowledgment. But CNN would not bring this up during the campaign.
None of this is meant to condone plagiarism in any form. But what it does show is a media feeding frenzy whenever the name “Trump” is involved in anything out of step.
Oh and by the way, Meredith McIver, the staffer who helped Melania write her “plagiarized” speech, explained that Melania credited First Lady Michelle Obama as someone who inspired her. “Over the phone, she read me some of the passages from Mrs. Obama’s speech as examples. I wrote them down, and later included some of the phrasing in the drafts that ultimately became the final speech. I did not check Mrs. Obama’s speeches. This was my mistake and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps as well as Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant.” McIver also offered her resignation to Mr. Trump and the Trump family “but they rejected it. Mr. Trump told me that people make innocent mistakes and we learn and grow from these experiences.” In Judaism, we call that being a mensch (good person).
Melania Trump has been pilloried and humiliated, almost relentlessly, in a way that did not take place in any of these other instances.
In watching the unfolding of accusations of Saudi involvement in 9/11 and Iran having a shorter timetable to build nuclear weapons, one would hope that the media would find those subjects worthy of half as much attention as devoted to Melania Trump’s speech. But that would not be the media that has thrown its weight behind making Hillary Clinton president.
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