Melania Trump’s plagiarism: Let us count the excuses

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In what is turning out to be the weirdest political convention in modern history, much of the attention so far has centered on Melania Trump’s prime time oration, which lifted freely from a speech given by first lady Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

Once the similarities were caught, they went viral on social media. The excuses given by the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have been, shall we say, creative.

At first, there was a staunch denial that there had been any plagiarism. Then New Jersey Gov. and Trump water carrier Chris Christie insisted that “93 percent of the speech wasn’t plagiarized.” Because what’s seven percent of thievery among friends?

Huffington Post rounded up the changing stories from the Trump campaign, or “Every Excuse In The Book,” as its headline read.

Campaign Manager Paul Manafort had the most brazen lie, blaming the entire episode on Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton (???). He told CNN that “when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks to demean her and take her down.” OK, then. Even though all of the instances of plagiarism were caught by the public, made the rounds on social media, and were reported by the regular media. The Clinton campaign had nothing to do with it. Just ask Politifact, which rated Manafort’s continued lies on this issue “False.”

My personal favorite is the “My Little Pony” defense, as explained by Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer. Spicer claimed that the words and ideas in Melania Trump’s speech were universal and could be found anywhere, even on that kids’ TV show. Here’s some of what he told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin:

“Melania Trump said, ‘The strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.’ Twilight Sparkle from ‘My Little Pony’ said, ‘This is your dream, anything you can do in your dreams.”

“So the RNC isn’t taking this seriously?” Melvin interjected.

“A simple Google search of three phrases comes up with everything from Sparkle Pony to John Legend to Akon,” Spicer said.

Unlike the phrases Trump lifted from Obama, none of Spicer’s examples are word-for-word matches.

Side-by-side comparisons of the two speeches were run throughout the day. You’d have to be the most wild-eyed Trump loyalist to not admit the obvious. Either that, or you were Paul Manafort.

I was ready to give Melania Trump the benefit of the doubt. Melania has stayed out of the campaign limelight, leaving that role to Trump’s older children, who are scheduled convention speakers. Even though she flatly told NBC’s Matt Lauer that she “wrote it herself, with a little help,” I figured that various Trump campaign staffers did most of the writing, steering her in several likely directions for ideas. It’s possible that they looked together at past speeches of would-be first ladies for inspiration, including the 2008 speech from FLOTUS. Maybe those words and those passages just filtered into Melania’s brain and onto the teleprompter.

Yeah, I’m not buying that, either. All we know for sure is that no one from the Trump campaign is due to be fired.

Look, plagiarism is something that journalists and the public understand. You use someone else’s words without attribution and try to pass them off on your own. You look bad. When you (and the Trump campaign) lie about it, everyone looks worse. There’s no nuance here. The cribbed passages can be explained simply, and it makes the Trump campaign — and by extension, the candidate — look even more dishonest than it (and he) already is.

It’s worth taking a look at what happened in 2008 as the FLOTUS-to-be put together a speech that would be heard by the whole world. As this Washington Post story tells it, she spent hours with veteran speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz, honing words and ideas until they came up with what would be Michelle Obama’s debut in prime time. She got rave reviews.

How’d it go for Melania? By midday, even her claims of earning a college degree had been debunked.

But it’s not fair to dump on Melania. After all, the plagiarized speech wasn’t the worst part of the first day of the RNC. We also had lies about Benghazi, fear-mongering from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, calls for Clinton to be thrown in jail, and white supremacy claims from Iowa Rep. Steve King. We could go on an on, but let’s not — once was enough for that crew.

No, Donald Trump — not Melania Trump — is the real threat. Let’s concentrate on beating him in November.

UPDATE: OK, now a Trump staffer is taking one for the team. Meredith McIver, described by CNN as a staff writer and “family friend,” says she’s the one who lifted passages from Michelle Obama’s speech. So after a series of laughable excuses as to why the cribbed speech wasn’t plagiarism, now the campaign admits that, oops, it was plagiarism after all. But all is well in Trumpland, and McIver gets to keep her job.

And people are supposed to trust this outfit to lead the country?

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