In marketing, imitation campaigns are often seen as forms of flattery.
In speechwriting and public speaking, lifting the words from another source is called plagiarism.
Accusations of “cribbing,” “plagiarism” and “word stealing” were flying within minutes after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, spoke Monday night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
A passage Trump read about her upbringing borrowed heavily from the structure and phrasing used by Michelle Obama in her 2008 convention speech.
“They’re nearly identical,” wrote former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, in response. “Somebody is seriously fired.”
Journalist Jarret Hill tweeted the initial accusation, which opened the floodgates online:
— Jarrett Hill (@JarrettHill) July 19, 2016
From a young age, 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 and showed me values and morals in their daily life. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generation 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.
The Trump campaign’s response: Denial
Very early Tuesday morning, Trump camp’s senior communications advisor, Jason Miller, issued the following statement:
Statement on Melania Trump Speech pic.twitter.com/80KgS0jxXz
— MELANIA TRUMP (@MELANIATRUMP) July 19, 2016
Campaign staff continued to deny the allegations in an additional interview on CNN.
“To think that she would do something like that knowing how scrutinized her speech was going to be last night is just really absurd,” campaign chairman Paul Manafort told CNN. “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.”
Many are calling the speech similarities undeniable and are asking Trump to apologize.
From Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass:
The Trump campaign is now the 8-year-old boy with chocolate cake all over its face, telling mom he didn’t have any snacks before dinner.
During an Illinois delegation breakfast early Tuesday, Chicago Tribune statehouse reporter Monique Garcia reported that Trump’s former manager, Corey Lewandowski, said staffers responsible for the Melania Trump speech must be held accountable.
Kass adds what many are echoing online:
Now the Melania issue isn’t just about a speech, but about how Donald Trump may govern if he’s elected president.
You don’t wing a speech at a convention. You make sure it wasn’t taken from someone else. Not doing so raises legitimate questions about whether you have any idea how to run a national political campaign.
And you don’t wing it in the Oval Office. The smart thing to do would be to present the metaphoric head of Melania Trump’s speechwriter to the media.
By mid-morning Tuesday, Yahoo Finance reported that the verified account belonging to @TheJusticeDept tweeted a link to CNN’s coverage in what users dubbed “trolling.”
Although the tweet was quickly deleted, it was retweeted by a reporter for The Atlantic:
The Justice Department weighs in… pic.twitter.com/QJkuC1FZsd
— Matt Ford (@fordm) July 19, 2016
In response, media relations pro Brad Phillips tweeted:
— Mr Media Training (@MrMediaTraining) July 19, 2016
Yahoo Finance attributes the flub to a staffer confusing the Justice Department’s Twitter account with a personal account:
So why exactly is the Justice Department, which normally only uses its Twitter account to announce serious policy and criminal justice matters, making remarks about Melania Trump? The answer, as Twitter users have pointed out, is almost certainly that a staffer, who has access to the agency’s social media tools, inadvertently tweeted from the @TheJusticeDept account rather than his or her personal one. These sort of foul-ups are not uncommon in the corporate world, where social media marketers have tweeted embarrassing messages from official brand accounts.
Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that the Trump campaign has no plans to “fire anybody on the campaign or to take any disciplinary action against anyone.”
Here’s more from CNN:
As campaign chairman Paul Manafort indicated at his morning news conference, the campaign’s posture is to simply move on from this without addressing it any further.
Sources familiar with the campaign’s handling of Melania Trump’s speech identify top Manafort deputy Rick Gates as the person inside the campaign who oversaw the entire speech process for Melania Trump. Gates is denying he oversaw the Melania speech process.
The office of the first lady has yet to respond to the comparison of her 2008 speech.
What do you think, Ragan readers? Was the Trump campaign right in dismissing the similarities in the two speeches, or should campaign staffers be held accountable? What effect might this have as the controversy festers?