Ink by the barrel: plagiarism and the press

Nothing has been able to derail the traveling circus that is Trump’s presidential campaign. Violence at his rallies? The story seems to blow over in a day. Threats to fire any members of the judiciary who disagree with him? [Crickets.]

But the story of Melania Trump’s plagiarized convention speech—that has legs. If there’s one topic members of the media feel passionately about, it’s plagiarizing. So you can threaten to deport people until the proverbial cows come home, but steal another writer’s work and you’re asking for trouble.

It reminds me of an expression I learned from Warren Buffett—though someone else may have said it first—”Never pick a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel.” (Note how I both sourced the quotation and allowed for the possibility that the source I cite may be incorrect. That’s how it’s done, folks.)

This is far from the Trump campaign’s worst gaffe, but it does expose many of the campaign’s weaknesses. I can’t imagine a major speaker at a political convention—heck, even at a big corporate event—who’d be allowed onstage without having several people vet the speech for consistency of message, at least. They haven’t let Melania say more than a few sentences at other events—yet they let her take the podium at the Convention with no oversight, no rehearsal? Nobody outside the family heard that speech before she gave it? With any other candidate I would say that’s hard to believe. But Trump’s campaign has been literally unbelievable, so who knows?

Today they trotted out a sacrificial lamb named McIver. But—whoops—now they’re not just in trouble with the press; they’ve run afoul of the Federal Elections Commission for using a corporate staffer rather than a campaign staffer to write the speech. The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza wraps up the growing mess here.

So if McIver wrote the speech, Trump is guilty of allowing his company to make illegal campaign contributions; if Melania wrote the speech, she’s guilty of plagiarism. Either way, the Trump campaign seems in desperate need of adult supervision. See Josh Bernoff’s wonderful explanation: he says it’s a classic case of Hanlon’s Razor – a phenomenon I’d never heard of:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

I’ll let “Melania” have the last word, via Stephen Colbert.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my vacation. Please—no more writing-related news from Cleveland.

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  • 0 comments on “Ink by the barrel: plagiarism and the press

    1. Anne Houde on

      I’ve been waiting with bated breath (Shakespeare??) for your commentary on this! Thanks and enjoy your vacation!