Media figures, including some in right-wing media, criticized the Trump campaign following revelations that Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech plagiarized parts of Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. However, several conservative media figures still defended the speech, claiming that “nobody owns” those words and that the speech “actually applies to her life.”
Melania Trump Delivers RNC Convention Speech
Melania Trump’s Speech Has “Striking Similarities” To Michelle Obama’s 2008 Speech. The New York Times reported Melania Trump’s speech on the first night of the convention had “striking similarities” to a 2008 speech Michelle Obama gave during the Democratic National Convention. Both speeches mentioned the values to “work hard,” having “integrity,” lessons from parents, and passing on those lessons to the next generation. From the Times’ July 19 article (emphasis original):
Melania Trump earned praise for her speech on Monday at the opening night of the Republican National Convention, but her remarks almost immediately came under scrutiny when striking similarities were discovered between her speech and one delivered by Michelle Obama at the Democratic convention in 2008.
The phrases in question came when Ms. Trump — who told NBC News earlier on Monday that she had written her speech herself — was discussing her upbringing in Slovenia and her parents.
Here are the relevant passages.
Ms. Trump, Monday night:
“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 lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations 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.”
Mrs. Obama, in her 2008 speech:
“Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
“I was born in Slovenia, a small, beautiful and then-Communist country in Central Europe. My sister, Ines, who is an incredible woman and a friend, and I were raised by my wonderful parents. My elegant and hard-working mother, Amalija, introduced me to fashion and beauty. My father, Viktor, instilled in me a passion for business and travel. Their integrity, compassion and intelligence reflects to this day on me and for my love of family and America.”
Mrs. Obama, in 2008:
“And I come here as a daughter — raised on the South Side of Chicago by a father who was a blue-collar city worker and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me. My mother’s love has always been a sustaining force for our family, and one of my greatest joys is seeing her integrity, her compassion and her intelligence reflected in my own daughters.” [New York Times, 7/19/16]
Trump Campaign Falsely Claims It’s Not Plagiarism. Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort called the plagiarism accusation “really absurd” when pressed on plagiarism accusations. From a July 19 CNN article:
[Donald Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort] denied allegations Tuesday that Melania Trump plagiarized a Michelle Obama speech on the first night of the Republican National Convention, calling the accusation “just really absurd.”
“To think that she would do something like that knowing how scrutinized her speech was going to be last night is just really absurd,” Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort told CNN's Chris Cuomo on “New Day.” [CNN, 7/19/16]
Media Call Out Speech For Plagiarism
Wash. Post’s Chris Cillizza: “The Level Of Campaign Malpractice Involved In The Melania Speech Is Stunning.”
The level of campaign malpractice involved in the Melania speech is stunning. Like how can you let that happen?
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) July 19, 2016
Al Jazeera: Melania Trump “Found Herself In The Midst Of An Embarrassing Plagiarism Controversy.” Al Jazeera claimed Melania Trump’s speech was “tarnished” by an “embarrassing plagiarism controversy.” The outlet added that Trump took “liberal inspiration from a 2008 speech” by Michelle Obama. From the July 19 article:
Donald Trump's wife, Melania, took centre stage on the first day of the Republican National Convention, but found herself in the midst of an embarrassing plagiarism controversy.
The billonaire businessman's wife appeared to have taken liberal inspiration from a 2008 speech by US First Lady Michelle Obama for her own address to the Republican convention on Monday night.
A Trump campaign official suggested the similarity to Obama's speech may have been the result of an error by her team of speech writers.
However, before her speech, Mrs Trump, a Slovenian-born jewelry designer and former model, told NBC's Matt Lauer: “I wrote it... with as little help as possible”.
A spokesman for the Trump campaign called the speech a success, but suggested her writers may have mistakenly injected some borrowed language.
“In writing her beautiful speech, Melania's team of writers took notes on her life's inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking,” Jason Miller, Trump's senior communications adviser, said in a statement. [Al Jazeera, 7/19/16]
CNN’s Chris Cuomo: The Trump Campaign Is Lying About Plagiarism In Melania Trump's Speech. CNN co-host Chris Cuomo said the plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech was not a big deal” but that the Trump campaign was “basically [lying] about it” by denying the plagiarism charge. From the July 19 edition of CNN’s New Day:
ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): Yes, but the point is without acknowledging it, what does that say about the [Donald Trump] campaign and their tactics?
REP. SEAN DUFFY (R-WI): First of all, I don't think he should have called in during the speech. This is a big moment. It's an important story. And it would have been nice for the Fox viewers at that point to have a chance to hear it instead of hearing from Mr. Trump. So I don't think that was the best call to take the limelight away from them off the stage, but that doesn't mean he didn't watch it, in my opinion.
CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): It's a pattern, though. Melania [Trump's] not a big deal but then you basically lie about it, OK? That's what it comes down to. This is the same set of phrases. You're right, it does happen a lot in politics. Explain it that way. It's not what happened. [Gov.] John Kasich [(R-OH)], the Trump campaign decided to go after the popular governor of Ohio. I get what the beef is, but it's an odd play. So I ask about it. It's denied even though I read the quote to [Paul] Manafort about what he said. He says, “I didn't go after Kasich.” He said “if he thinks not supporting Trump will help him be president that is dumb, dumb, dumb,” there may have been a fourth dumb. That's the quote. He says, “I didn't say it.” Why do these things this way? You know it makes the story worse. [CNN, New Day, 7/19/16]
CNN’s David Gregory: Trump Campaign Had To Have “Deliberately Did This.” CNN analyst David Gregory said Melania Trump “obviously got help from staff that either deliberately did this or, I don't know how there’s another way.” From the July 19 edition of CNN’s New Day:
CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): Now, did Melania Trump's speech echo, copy, Michelle Obama? The answer is yes. Paul Manafort says the answer is no. Common language is used in politics all the time. This is about when a strong woman goes against Hillary Clinton. That's his defense. Does it work?
DAVID GREGORY: Oh, I don't think so. I think it's just too cute by half. Obviously Melania, who took credit for writing this speech, obviously got help from staff that either deliberately did this or, I don't know how there’s another way. They obviously looked at some common things that you want to say about family and lessons in life, but they had some recent first lady speeches to draw on. And Michelle Obama's from 2008 came up. Again, I don't know that this is the kind of thing that has a lasting impact, but it speaks to a campaign that's moved very quickly, that's been organized really behind the eight ball. Mistakes like this can happen. And then you have a situation when they really wanted everyone to be focused on the themes that Melania spoke about about her husband, rounding out her husband Donald Trump. Instead we're talking about this misstep by the campaign, compounded by the fact that Paul Manafort then takes it to the level that this is Hillary Clinton taking on someone who is challenging her? I mean, this was in the wilds of the internet as far as I could tell. Maybe the allegation is that they tipped off this guy who was like a fashion reporter or something who started unearthing this. Look, anything is possible. All I’m say is they don't want this conversation this morning, and I don't think they're putting it to bed very easily.
ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): Okay so here is exactly what Paul Manafort said. Let's listen.
PAUL MANAFORT: There's no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech. I mean these were common words and values, that she cares about her family, that things like that. I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night. She knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama's words is crazy. I mean, it's so -- this is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down. It's not going to work.
CAMEROTA: So Brian, I mean he said it's crazy that anybody would think that this speech was plagiarized. Is this-- does this also speak to what the campaign does when caught in something that has been misrepresented or something that doesn't jive, or some hypocrisy? They say no, nothing to see here.
BRIAN STELTER: I was sitting across from the bar here while Chris was talking with Manafort. And that's what struck me as important about his comments. There's a criticism of the Trump campaign that goes like this: When confronted by factual inaccuracies or confronted by mistakes or misstatements, the campaign goes back on its heels, on the defensive, and denies reality. We've seen that from time to time, and this feels like one of those moments. Now, maybe conservative media bubbles will support the Trump campaign, will try to paper over this story, but I think that video that you all have shown that’s all over Twitter and Facebook tells the story really effectively, showing Michelle Obama and Melania Trump side by side. People, you know, you can't deny that kind of video. And so I'm a little bit surprised that Manafort would go to that basic stance of it's just not the reality. [CNN, New Day, 7/19/16]
Some Conservative Media Figures Acknowledge Speech Was Plagiarized
Fox’s Erick Erickson: “They Plagiarized The Section” Of Michelle Obama’s Speech “On Honesty, Character And Integrity.”
It's not just that they plagiarized Michelle Obama's speech; they plagiarize the section on honesty, character, and integrity.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) July 19, 2016
Fox’s Brit Hume: “Sad To Say, This Is Damaging. Intercut Sound Bites Leave No Doubt.”
Sad to say, this is damaging. Intercut sound bites leave no doubt. https://t.co/rezA9agDDA
— Brit Hume (@brithume) July 19, 2016
Fox’s Guy Benson: “Someone Knowingly Plagiarized That Michelle Obama Speech For Melania Trump.”
Someone knowingly plagiarized that Michelle Obama speech for Melania Trump. Thought no one would notice? Or knew full well people would?
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) July 19, 2016
Weekly Standard’s John McCormack: “Aside From The Plagiarism, Melania’s Speech Wasn’t Terrible If You Pretend Her Marriage to Donald J. Trump Isn’t Absurd.”
Aside from the plagiarism, Melania's speech wasn't terrible if you pretend her marriage to Donald J. Trump isn't absurd.
— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) July 19, 2016
Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro: “Melania Plagiarizing Michelle O Is Shocking.”
Melania plagiarizing Michelle O is shocking. It will not be shocking, however, when Trump and Hillary give identical speeches.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) July 19, 2016
But Several Right-Wing Media Figures Bend Over Backwards To Defend Speech
Fox’s Kilmeade: Plagiarism Was OK Because It “Actually Applies To Her Life.” Fox co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed the plagiarism was acceptable because the speech “actually applies to her life.” From the July 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox and Friends:
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): I think [Melania Trump] represents women very well. She's poised. She's polished. She represents the American dream. She teaches. She talks about teaching her son Barron the same values that we all grew up with, working hard. Here's a lady who's not from this country, and she could become the first lady of the United States of America. If that's not the American dream, I don't know what it is.
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Well put.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): She knows five languages, this is just one of them. So she comes out. She reads this speech and she goes abroad and brings things up we would not know about Donald Trump, what kind of father he is. Talks about how he does not judge people by their religion, does not judge people by their background and how much money they make and how patriotic he is. I think it’s great. A lot of people are pointing to the fact that there are some passages that are similar to Michelle Obama. And I’m astounded to -- you know, we have to go to bed at some point. And this is on at late. I’m astounded to wake up and everybody’s talking about, “Well well she plagiarized some parts of the speech. It's exactly like Michelle Obama in 2008.” So, you read them, and they are very similar. And you know, the speechwriter who crafted this together has got people to answer to.
DOOCY: Well she said she wrote it herself.
KILMEADE: But the other thing, Steve -- but I will say this, Steve, it actually applies to her life. It talks about her parents and the values and the values she wants to put to her kids. I got a chance to talk to her off-camera. We go to all those Apprentice finales and we have a good time. And all she talks about is her kids. And we met her parents, and that's all they talk about. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/19/16]
Fox’s Jeanine Pirro: “Nobody Owns” The Words From Michelle’s 2008 Speech. Fox host Jeanine Pirro claimed that while Melania Trump’s speech “may be similar to what other people have said,” “nobody owns” the phrases said in both her speech and Michelle Obama’s speech such as “word is your bond.” From the July 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
GERALDO RIVERA: Well that was -- [Melania Trump’s] presentation of it, as I said, the eloquence is unparalleled, it’s unmatched, it's fabulous. And then you play Michelle Obama from 2008, and the words, the syntax, the rhythm and some key lines are exactly the same.
JEANINE PIRRO: But when you say the rhythm, what are you saying? She was copying Michelle Obama’s rhythm? I know her, that’s how she speaks.
RIVERA: But how do you explain it then, judge?
PIRRO: How do I explain it?
RIVERA: I think it’s a tragedy that --
PIRRO: What I believe is that she was talking to the heart of America, to what we believe in, who we are. Nobody owns that, “my word is my bond.” Nobody owns --
RIVERA: You can’t seriously argue that they were not the same.
PIRRO: Personally, I think that that’s what she said, what she believes. It may be similar to what other people have said, there’s no question. I’ve said it. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/19/16]
Fox’s Laura Ingraham: “Speak[ing] A Foreign Language And Read[ing] From A Teleprompter ... Is Really Hard.” Fox News contributor and radio host Laura Ingraham acknowledged plagiarism in Melania’s speech as “unfortunate” and agreed “it shouldn’t have happened” before absolving her of wrongdoing based on the grounds that speaking a foreign language is difficult. From the July 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox and Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): So, the speech was a hit. She did a great job and then a little bit after that, somebody starting thinking, “Wait, that kind of sounds familiar.”
LAURA INGRAHAM: I have to say when I heard “the word is the bond,” I was talking to my friend Chris and we were watching going, “That sounds a little bit familiar.” And I kind of remember Michelle Obama saying something very similar. Some of the language was fairly generic language, but “the word is the bond” thing, obviously that came from Michelle's speech. I assume Melania got help with this speech as for most of the big speeches, people collaborate on these speeches. So that was unfortunate and shouldn't have happened but I have to say, anyone who has tried to speak a foreign language and read a teleprompter and deliver an address, it is really hard. And I thought her speech was heartfelt. The snark and the nastiness coming from the left last night, you know, the Trump people --
DOOCY: Well you expected that.
INGRAHAM: Yeah but think about it, if this were an illegal immigrant who is getting up and talking about dreamer -- “I'm a dreamer. I graduated number three in my class. I came to this country,” it wouldn't have mattered if it was to be or not to be plagiarized, taken from another speech. It would have been, “Well, we have to look at the core of the message. This is really uplifting and hopeful.” I thought her speech was great. I think they should put her out more on television. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/19/16]