Why It Doesn’t Matter If Melania Trump’s Speech Was Plagiarized

It’s not every day you hear a speech like that. In fact, if you’re a voting member of the American public, it’s probably been close to eight years since you’ve heard one like Melania Trump delivered Monday night to kick off the Republican National Convention.

Hours after she addressed the crowd on behalf of her husband, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, Melania’s name became a worldwide trending hashtag as she was called on the carpet for plagiarism. Before the scandal blew up, and since, Trump has maintained that she wrote the speech herself, with “as little help as possible,” though Trump’s head speechwriter Stephen Miller instead told the press that “Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking.”

Her “own thinking,” in this case, seems to have paralleled Michelle Obama’s during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and Trump’s repetition of several key lines was rapidly pointed out by a journalist on Twitter.

Great Copywriting (And Speechwriting) Exudes Originality

Though the similarities are striking, the Trump camp is denying that the speech was copied, news outlets are kicking up past political plagiarism scandals, and campaign manager Paul Manafort has even attempted to blame the public’s reaction on Hillary Clinton – and none of that really matters. Here’s why:

Melania and her team, whether they actively plagiarized or not, committed a cardinal sin of copywriting by sacrificing original ideas and succumbing to platitudes. The (loosely) copied lines, “That your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise. That you treat people with respect. Show the values and morals in in the daily life,” have been said before, not only by Michelle Obama in 2008 but (in some form or another) by political candidates since the start of time.

By all means, let Melania Trump’s speech serve as a lesson in bad copywriting — it’s a compelling one — but don’t lose the forest for the trees; if her speech was plagiarized, that’s bad copy. And if her speech wasn’t plagiarized, that’s still bad copy, because cookie-cutter content is dangerous. At best, it fails to do justice to your message. At worst, it can land you in the middle of a scandal like this.

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Comments

  1. Derek Christian says

    No, sorry, when you use copy that is almost word-for-word from other text, that is plagiarism. What nonsense is this? The definition is “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.” That’s theft. That’s not about general “ideas” or “platitudes” it’s about exact words and phrases, lines and thoughts following lines and thoughts in order. Which she did. There is a world of difference between saying “I think I’ll kill myself, what does it matter?” and “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” One is a general thought, the other: poetry. If you feel what she did “doesn’t matter” then you have no business writing for a copywriting blog. Hey, maybe I’ll just copy your post and pass it off as my words, that seems to be cool with you.

    • Stacy Livingston says

      Hi Derek.

      It seems my post pushed your buttons, and I really appreciate the time you took to comment–even if your response isn’t favorable.

      I agree, of course, with how you’ve defined plagiarism. The post wasn’t meant to dismiss that notion and its accompanying suggestions about the egregious lack of integrity behind a partially plagiarized speech. My post was rather written in anticipation of the counter argument, since made by Trump’s campaign and Sean Spicer at the RNC.

      Specifically, there are some who now say that the words were fine and the speech great because they were not intentionally copied, but “general ideas” (see here: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/19/politics/sean-spicer-melania-trump-my-little-pony/). I figured I’d instead point out what they are in either case: unoriginal, generic platitudes, which are a cardinal sin in our copywriting camp.

      Definitely agree that “stealing” is worse than “unoriginal.” But creativity is a battle we work hard to win every day, so unoriginal and generic are neither traits to trumpet nor defend.

      Happy to look for your response.

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