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by Sharon Rondeau

Do most writers, journalists, etc. understand what plagiarism is? (Painting depicts Spanish writer Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos)

(Jul. 20, 2016) — On Wednesday afternoon, Fox News and its affiliates were at first the only outlets reporting that a written apology has been issued by a Trump campaign staffer who said that she assisted Melania Trump in preparing her remarks to the Republican National Convention (RNC) on Monday night, the first day of the Republican National Convention.

Mrs. Trump’s speech was widely acclaimed on Monday, but reporters quickly began tweeting that certain passages within it very closely resembled several from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech in Denver, CO.

During a live broadcast of “Outnumbered” on Wednesday, co-anchor Harris Faulkner read a statement from Trump staffer Meredith McIver which said that “In working with Melania Trump on her recent First Lady speech, 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. 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. That was my mistake, and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant.”

On Monday evening and into Tuesday, CNN and other left-leaning media immediately accused Melania Trump of “plagiarism,” which is copying and repeating phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or even full pages of another’s work without attribution.

Barack Obama, Joe Biden, former Montana US Sen. John Walsh and others have had to concede that they used words, phrases, and even entire pages, respectively, written by others without attributing them to their original authors. Walsh’s Master’s Degree was rescinded as a result.

In Biden’s case, one of the instances of plagiarism occurred while he attended Syracuse University College of Law, where he was forced to admit that five pages of his 15-page essay were lifted directly from a law journal without proper attribution.

“My intent was not to deceive anyone,” Biden wrote in a letter imploring faculty members not to eject him from law school as punishment.

In February 2008, Obama was found to have copied phrases from a speech given by former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who Obama considered “a friend,” according to The New York Times.

In 2014, a George W. Bush speechwriter, Marc Thiessen, accused Obama of again plagiarizing, this time from Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address.

Biden has since been invited to give the commencement speech at the school four times, including this past May.  In explanation of his law school “mistake,” Biden was reported by The New York Times in 1987 to have said “that he had simply misunderstood the need to cite sources carefully.”

In 2003, The New York Times’s Jayson Blair, who was found to have published a wide array of plagiarized material, resigned, followed by two senior editors.  In February 2010, a New second York Times reporter resigned after having been accused of plagiarism.

An accusation against another Times reporter was made two years ago.  As reported by Margaret Sullivan on July 30, 2014, “The incident comes at a time when journalistic plagiarism is in the news. An editor at BuzzFeed, Benny Johnson, was fired last week after two unnamed people (who tweet and blog under the handles @blippoblappo and @crushingbort) investigated his work and turned up many instances of lifted copy. After initially defending him, BuzzFeed did its own investigation, dismissed him and apologized to readers in a note from editor in chief Ben Smith.

Sullivan further stated her opinion of reproducing others’ work:  “It’s pretty simple, at BuzzFeed or at The New York Times: Write your own stuff; when you can’t or won’t, make sure you attribute and link. Use multiple sources; compare, contrast, verify.”

In 2011, The Washington Post admitted to a reporter’s having plagiarized, as was reported by The New York Times.  That same year, a journalist employed by Politico “resigned on Thursday after allegations that she had used content in a number of her stories from articles that had been published in The New York Times, The Associated Press, NJ.com and other sources.”

In May of this year, USA Today discovered that crossword puzzles placed in its pages by an employee were apparently “copied,” at least in part, from those appearing in The New York Times.

The Post & Email has rejected or removed any submissions containing wording found to have been taken from another source without including quotation marks and a link back to the original source.  It is also advisable to state the source of the material.

During the course of writing this article, it was discovered that Business Insider published a story about the Trump speechwriter’s apology, followed by other mainstream articles on the subject.  “Trump staffer falls on sword for Melania Trump speech,” wrote PBS.

Former presidential candidate Ben Carson was found by BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski to have reproduced passages in his 2012 book “America the Beautiful” from sources without proper attribution.  Kaczynski also pronounced Sen. Rand Paul’s book, “Government Bullies,” as containing three pages of plagiarized material.

Former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown admitted to passages appearing on his website emanating from a speech given by former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

The website plagiarismtoday.com advises the following to editors, writers and bloggers which would also apply to speechwriters:

  1. Attribute Obsessively: It is not enough to merely attribute up to current standards, one has to go above and beyond. Not only does it make such scandals much less likely, but it provides proof of good faith when and if an omission does happen. Though not everyone’s words are under the same scrutiny as Obama, pretend that they are.
  2. Get Permission: Though Obama appears to have had permission to use the words he did and it didn’t avert the scandal, imagine how much different it would be if Patrick hadn’t spoken up and said that Obama had clearance to use the words. It was a wise move by Obama.
  3. Incidental Plagiarism Still Counts: The plagiarized portion was only a few sentences, but either the memory of someone on the Web or advanced search tools were able to detect the plagiarism. The fact that it is only a few sentences or not a direct quote doesn’t mean much. The plagiarism can be found so long as it is recognizeable. Take nothing for granted.

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