STORRS, Conn. — Didn’t it seem odd to you that Melania Trump started to talk about the difficulties she faced as a black woman at Princeton? That’s when I started to feel a little weird about her speech.

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

You might recognize “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny” as a line from Larry The Cable Guy because the comic has made it a part of his shtick. The words are widely circulated but still identifiable as Larry’s and Larry’s alone.

What you might not have recognized, however, is that my opening line making fun of the apparent plagiarism in Melania Trump’s speech Monday at the Republican convention, the bit about being a black woman at Princeton, is lifted from a tweet by journalist Michael Crowley.

I stole it, Crowley’s funny comment.

I mean, I could have thought of that idea; I might have thought of that idea. The wee fact that I didn’t think of that idea is surely just a dumb detail, one only the most pedantic and persnickety, jealous and backbiting critic would notice.


Besides, a woman like Trump wouldn’t steal an idea. She would buy it, keep the tags on it and return it if it didn’t work.

Michael Crowley posted his quip on Twitter a few hours after Trump’s speech was being dissected – perhaps the word “vivisected” is more accurate – in the media.

Within minutes of the revelation of the significant and undeniable overlap between Trump’s speech and one delivered by Michelle Obama in 2008, folks were tweeting gleefully.

Improvisational comedian Bob Fisher channeled Donald Trump’s wife, “Melania: ‘These accusations about my speech hurt not only me, but also hurt my children Sasha and Malia,’ ” and comedy writer Emma Kennedy followed with “I’m looking forward to Melania’s next speech. ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman.’ ”

I could have said I invented those funny comments, too, but in addition to respecting the intelligence of my audience, I’m aware that you are savvy enough to look stuff up.

It’s not hard to discover if material is plagiarized. As a professor, I’m forced to do it on occasion, and I suggest to the junior colleagues I mentor (whose students understand less about the implications of the theft of intellectual property) that they do it regularly, or at least until both they and their students are fluent in what constitutes original work.


As one of my former students, Chad Stanley, now a professor at Wilkes College in Pennsylvania, declared, “All subsequent campaign communications must be submitted to Turnitin.”

Turnitin is one of several websites where teachers – or anyone – can submit passages and papers to have them reviewed for examples of plagiarism. Such sites go beyond literary theft, and can help everyone learn to identify the 10 types of plagiarism. (I stole that description from their website.)

There are hundreds of other websites offering similar services. Every educator I asked, from junior high school teachers to university administrators, agreed that a student who swiped as much text as Melania Trump would be expelled or, at the very least, put on double secret probation.

Donald Trump doesn’t seem to care. I suppose plagiarism doesn’t matter at Trump University (which is where I assume Melania Trump’s son Barron will be educated, since she wants only the best for the next generation). Donald Trump tweeted that his wife’s “speech and demeanor were absolutely incredible.”

Of course he said that. When NBC’s Matt Lauer interviewed the Trumps, Melania said she wrote the speech herself with very little help.

Several friends believe it was either an act of sabotage or a publicity stunt. Both these scenarios distance Melania Trump from personal responsibility for the words coming out of her mouth. Here’s what my friends said: “The poor thing only does what she’s told”; “They want to keep the media focused on Melania and it’s been effective”; “Donald hired somebody who deliberately undermined him.”

Does it matter? The practice of taking something that is not your own and passing it off as yours should not be rewarded with anything except shame. That’s a lesson worth copying out. (I plagiarized that from an article I wrote a few years back. You can look it up.)


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