Republican National Convention: Scrutiny of Melania Trump’s speech follows plagiarism allegations

As a college English teacher, I come to the table with a nuanced professional stance on the value of originality in writing. In a given discourse community, I can refer to common ideas without making it look like I am claiming original thinking. For example, when I was an undergrad with a work-study job in the theatre department’s scene shop, I saw a tired grad student scowl at the lopsided chicken-wire construction she has been slaving over for hours, and sigh, “Only God can make a tree.” I understood that she was referring to the Joyce Kilmer poem “Trees,” and I understood that she was not claiming to be the first theater person to make that connection. Because I was a newbie in the scene shop, she was passing on a bit of theatre lore, and she was also teaching me to appreciate a good artificial tree if I ever see one on a stage. I learned from that grad student’s lament that making artificial trees is hard work that takes skill. My co-worker did not need to cite the source of the poem for me to understand that she was referring to a cultural touchstone (a very familiar poem) that she expected her audience to recognize.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take that much skill to write a fluffy convention speech that avoids plagiarizing.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 2.59.28 PMFormer campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who Trump fired last month, defended Melania on Tuesday but said that the staff should be “held accountable” for potential plagiarism.

“I think Mrs. Trump is a very smart, articulate woman. Her thoughts are her own thoughts. And I think if there was a mistake, it was at the staff level, and the staff should be held accountable,” Lewandowski told reporters.

On Tuesday morning, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort denied that there had been any plagiarism, despite clear similarities between the two speeches. Some parts of the speeches appeared to be the same, word for word. He made the rounds of an empty arena Tuesday morning, going between television sets on the convention floor as he made his case, looking tired and insisting that the plagiarism was being overstated and overplayed. —Washington Post

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