Naive Melania Plagiarism, Not McIver Error And Excuse

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<strong>Study this example of naive plagiarism carefully. <br>Who could see Michelle's text & miss "Barack and I"? </strong><strong>Who deleted those? </strong>
Study this example of naive plagiarism carefully.
Who could see Michelle's text & miss "Barack and I"?
Who deleted those?
John Mashey

Melania Trump’s speech is now famous for plagiarism, made especially clear by the comparison here (or in larger image), but Trump’s team seems more at fault.

This post confirms doubts by some writers regarding Meredith McIver’s story, which seemed designed to shield Melania and the Trump election team from criticism, acting from her safe job inside the Trump Organization:

Over the phone, she read me some passages from Mrs. Obama’s speech as examples. I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft 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 …’ (So, who twice deleted “Barack and I” ?

The USA is stricter about plagiarism than many countries, and its universities train students to avoid unintentional plagiarism similar to Melania’s, where many words were copied exactly. Experienced plagiarizers reorder and change more.

Experienced writer McIver earned a 1976 English degree at University of Utah. Melania spent a year in college, then quit to pursue modeling, unsurprising given conflict with spending ages 18-21 in school. There is no shame in that.

The false claim of a degree was an unnecessary credibility problem. She needed no degree for a good career, but had no obvious experience in American plagiarism rules. That brings us to careful examination of the two texts.

More than half of Michelle’s words were copied identically, in-order, shaded blue.
How did Melania’s speech use those words while omitting “Barack and I” ?

The phrase “incredible arena of fashion” seems original with Melania, unlikely to have been written by anyone else, but must be included in each scenario below.

Three scenarios seem possible, but none fit McIver’s description well:

1. Melania repeated Michelle’s speech to McIver, who transcribed it accurately enough to retain all blue-shaded words, then twice deleted “Barack and I” and made the other edits. It seems very unlikely that an experienced author would deliberately include such obvious plagiarism in a high-profile speech. OR

2. Melania altered the text, deleted the “Barack and I” phrases, and read that to McIver, who then made at most minor changes, since the blue words stayed. The careful transcription does not fit her “included some phrasing.” In this case, Melania would have plagiarized Michelle, but without leaving the obvious clue, so this was not really McIver’s responsibility. Why would she check Michelle’s speeches instead of just asking Melania? . This is the closest to her story. OR

3. Melania added and edited Michelle’s text, innocently ignoring plagiarism, just as many untrained students think a few changes sufficient for originality.

That text appeared within six paragraphs written originally by Matthew Scully, which comprise about half her speech, as seen in this annotated copy. Then, other(s) reviewed and perhaps made minor edits, but Michelle’s words might easily have been missed amidst Scully’s. She could honestly believe her words:

‘It’s unclear how much of her speech Melania actually wrote, but earlier in the day she told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I read once over it and that’s all. Because I wrote it and with [as] little help as possible.”’ (ambiguous)

Of course, we do not know the exact sequence of edits, and probably never will.
Scenario 3 seems most likely - inexperience, incompetent supervision, cover-up. The Trump team:

  • let untrained Melania make a bad mistake in her Monday speech, without competent writing supervision, far less to her discredit than the team’s.
  • spent Tuesday simply inventing an amazing variety of wrong explanations, especially odd, since Donald just had to ask Melania what happened.
  • constructed a cover story by Wednesday, but easily shown inadequate

Melania could have apologized Tuesday morning for an error of inexperience. Many would have sympathized with her, if not with the Trump team’s errors.

They might have created a less-easily disproved cover story, by claiming confusion among several election staff helpers and sets of notes
Although incompetent, that might have been more believable, but the phone-dictation story was too specific. Scenarios 1 and 2 each have problems.

Such behaviors have been seen before, but likely never with such visibility.
This will remain one of the most famous cases of plagiarism for many years.


Beyond Melania, Plagiarism Denial From Politicians, Climate Deniers is a longer version of this post, with more references and comparisons with other cases whose similarities made this one so easily recognizable.

Many people focus only on the identical words, enough to prove plagiarism, but often, a good display style helps highlight changes and deletions. Those help reveal the plagiarism process and sometimes, even the likely person.

This 4-page PDF or MS-Word file adds a description of more general methodology and uses it to display 2-page example of more complex plagiarism.

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