Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Speechwriter Confirms Melania Knew She Was Plagiarizing Michelle Obama

Speechwriter Confirms Melania Knew She Was Plagiarizing Michelle Obama

"The speechwriter confirmed that not only was the speech intentionally lifted from Michelle Obama’s address but that Melania was fully aware she was speaking the First Lady’s words. That would, of course, run counter to Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s official explanation, that words are common and no one owns them and any similarities were an accident."

Of course we already knew that Manafort's explanation was a desperate attempt at damage control. It is not possible that such a degree of similarity was accidental. That was a nonsense explanation. Even when people express the same ideas - even when one is TRYING to quote what another just said - it is impossible to string together that many of the same words and distinct phrases in the same order. A professor at McGill calculated the odds at 1 in 87 billion.

We knew all along that Manafort's explanation was mathematically impossible and laughably ill-advised, roughly the equivalent of insisting that two plus two equals three, but we now know that he is not only a dunce, but a lazy dunce, since he made absolutely no effort to find out the real explanation before throwing some raw meat to the press lions.

You'd think he would have asked Melania or the speechwriter ...

but no-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o (as Belushi would have said).


  1. While I agree that Manafort should have kept his mouth shut until the facts were known, the most outrageous part of this for me is that it was ever a huge story at all. Is McGill University actually paying its professors to run odds on the boilerplate phrases of speeches by candidates' wives not being 100% original? If so, their donors should demand a refund. Was there nothing more important in the news to cover for the past 24 hours than this? And I say that as a professional writer who has actually helped craft convention speeches.

    People are letting political partisanship make them act deranged. I actually had someone on Facebook yesterday respond to my accurate and dispassionate explanation of why it wasn't necessary for the RNC to get Queen's permission to play their song because the venue has an ASCAP/BMI public performance license by saying, "So Trump just does whatever he wants, like Hitler did to the Jews. So Nazi!" When you start equating the playing of a Queen song to exterminating the Jews, you don't need to go to the polls, you need to go to a cult deprogramming center.

  2. The McGill professor probably didn't make the calculation using original research specifically done for the purpose of embarrassing Melania Trump.

    There's a thriving trade in pre-written term papers for undergraduate students, and professors need ways to quickly test the electronic copies of papers for plagiarism against databases of known samples.

    Re-purposing that sort of software to compare the transcripts of two speeches is relatively trivial, probably only a 5-15 minute job.

    As to McGill University disciplining the professor in question for wasting time, you do know how tenure and academic freedom work, right?

    As to the importance of the story, Trump and his campaign are auditioning for position of immense power and responsibility. Thus the fact that he and his staff would be:

    A.) Lazy enough to plagiarize.


    B.) So mind numbingly stupid as to think no one would notice.

    ...this is relevant because it strongly implies they can not and should not be trusted on matters of greater import.

    In other words, if Clinton getting head in the Oval Office is relevant to his character as being fit for said office, than evidence that Trump has no character at all is relevant.

  3. Actually Creeder, you seem to have the music matter wrong. One of my readers is a music lawyer.

    "Hey Scoop,

    Creeder's got it absolutely backward when he speculates about the legal rights situation regarding Trump's use of Queen's music. Or John Kander's for that matter, as I'm sure he -- a very vocal liberal -- didn't give permission to use 'New York, New York' on Tuesday night. Creeder is confusing public performance rights (where you don't need to get permission directly from the artists) with synchronization right (where you do). Yes, the Quicken Loans Arena has a public performance license (several actually: one from ASCAP for their catalog; one from BMI for theirs, etc). This gives them permission to play music in their venue. It does not give them permission to further transmit the music, especially when synchronised to visual elements, beyond the confines of the venue. For that, you need to negotiate a synchronization license, the same as if you were making a television show or a film using that music. This kind of permission is never granted in advance or without specific authorization of the songwriters (through their agents or music publishers). It cannot be granted by a performing rights organization like ASCAP or BMI.

    For once, this is something I really do know what I'm talking about, as I'm a music lawyer and have worked on these issues for years. ASCAP even addresses the issue on their website and clarifies the situation in their FAQ's.

    As they note, there are several other legal bases for songwriters to withhold their permission, including their legal right not to be involuntarily associated with a particular campaign's message or candidate; and the right not to be falsely implied to have endorsed the candidate.

    Simply put, there is no venue license or campaign license that can give the RNC the permission to use songs in the ASCAP or BMI catalogs in a televised convention without first seeking the artists' permission."


    As for the plagiarism, the McGill professor was obviously right to begin with. Anybody who has studied the probability of distinct phrases or exact word order being repeated could see that immediately without doing any specific calculations. My own academic field, so many decades ago, was stylistics, and this is right in my wheelhouse. I would have done the calculations differently because he is a professor of physics, not stylistics, but his results were accurate enough. He simply put a pencil to a down and dirty calculation to show the absurdity of Manafort's attempt at spin, which made me laugh out loud when I heard it. (And of course he was proven right by the fact that Melania and the speechwriter did indeed copy the exact phrases from Michelle Obama.)

  4. John Foelster

    "mind-numbingly stupid"

    Boy, ain't that the truth. As I noted in my previous comment, I laughed out loud when I head Manafort's attempt at spin. To be fair, though, I doubt if anyone but the speechwriter and Melania knew of the copy-paste. I assume Melania trusted the speechwriter to have followed proper procedure in citation, so that really puts all the blame on one person, but it was truly mind-boggling that: (1) the speechwriter would do such a thing; and (2) she didn't think anybody would notice it. In fact, it seems impossible. Is it possible she sabotaged Melania on purpose for some dark reason of her own?

  5. The current microdebate about the speechwriter in my social media is that she doesn't exist, like "John Miller" or "John Barron", but given that there was a lot of leaks from within the campaign about Trump trying to back out of picking Pence as VP on Thursday night, the level of infighting and backstabbing within the campaign staff must also be at nigh implausible levels.

  6. She doesn't exist?

    And I thought my "dark reason" theory was off-the-wall!

    The NY Times seems to think she is real:

  7. You're more up to speed than me.

    Apparently some news organizations and bloggers were speculating she was a non-person prior to the release of the NYT article.

    McIver had zero social media presence until 12 AM on the 19th of this month, suggesting that the information that appeared was hastily scrawled in by a Trump staffer.

    And I presume you know that the Donald acted has his own publicist under the names I mentioned above at one point, so that McIver being another such fabrication was not so inherently implausible.

  8. Creeder is clearly a partisan.

    I think the parts of the speech lifted from Michelle Obama's speech was much more than boilerplate.

    If that's boilerplate, then 93% of the speeches at this convention are boilerplate.

    The reason this is a real issue is twofold:
    1.The main theme on the first night was about the rule of law and that everybody needs to play by the rules, in alleging that Hillary Clinton did not obey the rule of law, and in pointing out that Hillary Clinton does not always play by the rules.

    Plagiarizing a speech and then claiming it's not important and possibly using the Queen song We Are The Champions without approval is clearly evidence that the Trump campaign and members of the Trump family and certainly Trump himself don't play by the rules themselves.

    2.Since Trump has no political career, all we really have to judge him by is his ability to manage things like this convention. The obvious question: if he can't even manage a convention, how can he possibly manage being President?

  9. Creeder's rebuttal:

    "Ah, so many words, so little accurate information!

    I don't claim to be a music rights lawyer, but I am marking my 40th year in radio, TV and the music industry, including writing for nationally televised conventions, running my own indie label and producing live music shows. I'm also hardly a Trump partisan. In fact, I suspect it's the anti-Trump partisanship of the other writers that's caused them to overlook the salient detail that explains why Trump did not need Queen's permission to use that song:

    No matter what you think of the GOP Convention, it is NOT a televised commercial for Donald Trump. It's a live event produced for the benefit of the crowd in the arena, hence the need only for an ASCAP/BMI blanket public performance license. Queen is BMI, as reported in an article explaining this very issue. To quote Vox: “…because BMI operates under close antitrust scrutiny, it’s required to license its music to all comers on a nondiscriminatory basis. That means the band doesn’t have the option of licensing its music to BMI with a ‘no Donald Trump’ or "’no Republicans’ restriction. If the Republican Party paid for a BMI license, it can use any music Queen has licensed to BMI whether Queen likes it or not.”

    Neither Trump nor the RNC had anything to do with it being televised, and therefore have no legal responsibility for broadcast music licensing. The convention is aired by news channels such as CNN, C-Span, etc. as coverage of a live news event. There is a special exception in copyright law called "ephemeral use" that exempts news outlets from having to obtain prior permission from rights holders for music played at live events. Requiring such permissions would place an undue burden on freedom of the press and the public interest. This is also why the RNC didn't need broadcast or mechanical licenses for every oldie played between speeches by G.E. Smith's band, even though many of those were also televised on news channels.

    The rights holders could make the argument that if the news outlets later produced a special utilizing that clip, they would need permission, but not when it aired live. Even then, the licensing wouldn't be Trump's responsibility, but the special producer's. Trump would need permission and synch licensing only if he used that song or clip in a pre-recorded commercial, YouTube video, etc.

    Yes, there are some legal angles such as arguing trademark dilution, but they are shaky and hard to prove in court. When artists threaten that, it's usually considered to be a bluff tactic. Politicians cave just to make them go away and end the bad PR, but it doesn't mean they actually had a solid legal case, since they generally don't."

  10. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden have done the same thing.

  11. I'm no legal expert, but it seems to me there is an important distinction between Trump using a song as his entrance music and a WWE wrestler doing the same thing. The GOP event is not broadcast by the GOP. It is an event held in a convention center which is broadcast by news outlets as a new event. Given that, they do not broadcast a song beyond the four walls of the arena, while the WWE uses the arena event for the express purpose of broadcasting it for a profit. Thus, under normal circumstances, the GOP can use anything covered by the convention license, while the WWE would have to negotiate a synch license. After the controversy, the license has apparently been changed:

    "It turns out that the Republican National Committee was authorized to use the Queen hit 'We Are the Champions' at the party’s national convention, but it apparently will no longer be sanctioned to do so in the future.

    A rep for BMI tells ABC News that while the RNC holds a 'convention license' allowing them to play any song in the performing-rights organization’s catalog at its events, the convention is being transitioned to a 'political entities license' that lets BMI exclude certain musical works at the request of an artist or songwriter."