OPINION: Just a reminder, this is what plagiarism is

As a journalism professor at Wayne State University, I am – some students believe, pathologically – concerned about plagiarism. While the media is confusing the children with precatory language, saying Melania Trump’s speech contained “similar passages,” or that it “possibly borrowed,” from the 2008 speech of Michelle Obama, please make no mistake about it: This was textbook plagiarism.

Plagiarism.org says it well. “Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like ‘copying’ and ‘borrowing’ can disguise the seriousness of the offense.

ACCORDING TO THE MERRIAM-WEBSTER ONLINE DICTIONARY, TO "PLAGIARIZE" MEANS

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.”

Because we live in a cut-and-paste world, high schools and colleges use computer programs like Turnitin to check submitted text for word duplication. “According to Turnitin, there is a 1 in 1 trillion chance that two writers would write the same 16-word sequence by coincidence. The longest matching sequence of words between the Trump and Obama speeches was 23 words,” reports thehill.com

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That said, once a student has set off on this path to credibility destruction, and I as the professor have called you on it, please do not enhance your thought-crime with a murky implausible explanation like the one that we are told was (at long last) penned by a Trump organization writer. And it, italics added, goes like this:

My name is Meredith McIver and I'm an in-house staff writer at the Trump Organization. I am also a longtime friend and admirer of the Trump family.

Oh. OK. Motive and opportunity to take the fall for this boo-boo. Carry on . . .

In working with Melania Trump on her recent First Lady speech,

Let’s stop right there. “Meredith.” You (all) have now added PR spin to this “apology.” One doesn’t deliver a first lady (which should be lowercase, since it’s not an official job title) speech until one’s husband has been elected president.

Now, the dictionary allows for use of the term when the subject is “the wife of the U.S. president” or is “a woman who has great importance, influence, or success in a specified activity or profession.” I shall attempt to not comment on Melania’s importance and/or success considering that the college her official bio says she graduated from now tells CBS News that it is unable to locate records for a person by that name. 

Pressing on . . .

we discussed many people who inspired her and messages she wanted to share with the American people. A person she has always liked is Michelle Obama.

Are you serious? So you’re telling me that the wife of the presidential candidate who vilifies the Obamas and who is openly criticized by both of the Obamas in fact admires Mrs. Obama? Wow! She sure has a mind of her own! Or else, this is the implausible piece of bull that lets me know the “story” is now being unspun. But as Katt Williams says . . . “I’ll wait.”

Over the phone, she read me some passages from Mrs. Obama's speech as examples.

Okay. So we now know that upon hearing them, Meredith the writer knew these were “passages,” i.e. the words of another. Check.

I wrote them down

Screech! Do you take shorthand? So, you’re on the phone, hearing Melania Trump read words and you are able to write them down verbatim? That’s quite a feat! And a dangerous one. I wudda made a BIG ol notation that these “notes” were “examples.” Plus, I’d remember such a frantic scribbling session. But that’s just me.

and later included some of the phrasing

The. Exact. Words. Say it after me so that I’m certain you get it. You used the exact words.

in the draft that ultimately became the final speech.

Why are you parsing “draft” from “final speech”? When students add extra layers to the story, zig zags to deflect and divert the analysis of the crime, it flags a lie. IJS.

I did not check Mrs. Obama's speeches.

You’re writing a “First Lady speech” – the speech of your career – and you’re told Melania wants to do it up like Michelle did but you only refer to the few phoned-in “passages” that she read to you as “examples.” You never conducted a comprehensive study of the subject of your client’s admiration? Oh. Okay.

This was my mistake,

Whelp. Not yours alone. Remember, Melania read those passages to you over the phone. They were her selected “examples.” So are you now saying that they didn’t ring familiar to her when she received that final draft? I’m now concerned about her memory. Or her comprehension skills.

and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama.

True dat.

No harm was meant.

Irrelevant. It’s safe to say that no one means to harm – they mean to gain. Let’s move on.

Yesterday, I offered my resignation to Mr. Trump and the Trump family, but they rejected it. Mr. Trump told me that people make innocent mistakes and that we learn and grow from these experiences.

What a nice, thoughtful, kind and considerate man Mr. Trump is. And how nice of you to note it here in this combo mea culpa / public relations spun PR-ology.

I asked to put out this statement because I did not like seeing the way this was distracting from Mr. Trump's historic campaign for president

Okay. Historic? (Michele Obama side-eye.)

and Melania's beautiful message and presentation.

How warm and fuzzy. But, if you don’t mind . . . we’ll be the judge of that, oh “longtime friend and admirer of the Trump family.”

I apologize for the confusion and hysteria my mistake has caused.

Hysteria. You meant no harm and here people are overreacting. Plus, “hysteria” isn’t an over-blown, verbose Trumpy word at all. Not at tall . . .

Today, more than ever, I am honored to work for such a great family.

PR puffery for the Trump brand. Cheesy touch.

I personally admire the way Mr. Trump has handled this situation and I am grateful for his understanding.

I, personally, don’t give much credence to the opinion of a professional who says she is capable of taking lightning-fast notes while chatting on the phone – but is incapable of remembering the feat once reviewing said material as it then slips into the first draft of the speech and then survives the entire edit and review process until it is ultimately delivered by the “dictator” of said words, to the American people.

Sincerely, Meredith McIver

Sincerely Meredith, this fails as a plausible explanation, is insulting in the liberties it takes with credibility and in how it underestimates the intelligence and powers of discernment of the American people. Most tragically, it confuses the kids.

Alicia Nails is the director of Wayne State University's Journalism Institute for Media Diversity and an Emmy Award-winning television journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the media as a writer and producer. Nails serves on the BLAC Detroit Advisory Board.

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