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Let's ask the experts: Teachers, did Melania Trump plagiarize Michelle Obama?

After Melania Trump's speech last night at the Republican National Convention, journalist  Jarrett Hill noted striking similarities to Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech. The allegation of plagiarism caught fire on social media, which responded with memes and the spoof #famousmelaniatrumpquotes.

Here is an audio comparison by Jamie Dupree of WSB Radio that vividly highlights the similarities.  It's in two parts and here is the second.

I assumed it was a matter of similar phrasing, but the resemblances in the women's speeches go deeper. Some of the wording is identical. My own theory: R esearchers helping Melania Trump write her speech emailed her examples of other speeches. In the flurry of copy and pasting, some of  Michelle Obama's language ended up in Melania Trump's speech. 

How serious is the plagiarism?

In a TV interview, the governor of my home state of New Jersey set a new standard, The Seven-Per-Cent Absolution. Gov. Chris Christie contends Melania Trump cannot stand accused of plagiarism, saying, "Not when 93 percent of the speech is completely different than Michelle Obama’s speech." Wonder if students will now tell their teachers, "Only 7 percent of this paper is not my own work, thus it is not plagiarism."

I thought we should consult the experts, people who deal with plagiarism every day.

So, teachers, tell us: If you were marking Melania Trump's speech, would you ding her for copying Michelle Obama?

Melania Trump last 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.”

Michelle 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.”

Melania Trump:

“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.”

Michelle Obama:

“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.”


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.