The facts aren’t in dispute. Michelle in 2008. Democratic Convention. Melania in 2016. Republican Convention. Not just the same theme, but the same words and even the same sentences. So Melania’s a fraud. Isn’t she?
Well no. Not necessarily. It’s very easy to sneer. But, as a speechwriter, I’d say she’s not to blame.
One assumes she briefed her speechwriting team on the key messages for the day. One hopes she had some input into the content. You’d assume she rehearsed it a few times and even edited some sections. But that doesn’t make it her fault.
The words were good. The theme was strong. It was one of the oratorical highs of the Trump campaign so far (which, to be fair, is akin to being the most ethical inhabitant of Love Island). And of course she’d approve this passage because it’s written terrifically well.
There’s no way she would have known that Michelle Obama had said the same thing. And although its easy to quote the words back in hindsight, I challenge you to quote any other passage of the First Lady’s eight year’s in office verbatim. Nope? Nor could I. And I read and write speeches for a living.
So who is to blame?
The blame lies with her speechwriters. The relationship between speaker and writer should be sacrosanct. Complete trust. The writer has the huge responsibility of making the speaker sound at the very top of their game. Not because they couldn’t do it alone, but because they are busy, and because they want to get it right.
In this case, that trust was breached. There is no excuse for cut-and-pasting ANY section for ANY speech. We write for politicians and we’d never intentionally ‘borrow’ a line. Nor would we even contemplate using someone else’s material for a wedding speech. We estimated recently that we’d written over five million words worth of speeches. I can guarantee that no two speeches have used the same chunk of text (except for a few quotes attributed to others). But if I somehow snuck one in, and my client was ‘caught’ giving it, I would resign immediately (or, at least offer a full refund and apologise profusely!).
And what has Melania done wrong?
So Melania should not be given too much abuse for reading her script, simply for trusting the wrong speechwriter. But she is culpable of a worse crime than plagiarising. When challenged, she claimed to have written the speech largely herself. That’s about as likely as those words having been replicated by accident. By claiming to be the writer, she is either guilty of copying or of lying. The piece was about honesty. It was originally written by Hilary Clinton’s ex-speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz. So Melania is copying material about “your word being your bond” from her husband’s Democratic rival. If Carlsberg did irony …