Trump speechwriter takes blame for Melania Trump's speech
Posted July 20, 2016
Updated July 21, 2016
CLEVELAND — With Donald Trump's campaign reeling from charges of plagiarism, a speechwriter for his company took the blame and offered to resign over nearly identical passages from Melania Trump's Republican convention speech and Michelle Obama's remarks eight years ago.
The speechwriter, however, made it clear that Melania Trump knew that the passages she read to an enthralled convention Monday night had come from Michelle Obama.
"A person she has always liked is Michelle Obama," the speechwriter, Meredith McIver, said of Mrs. Trump in a statement Wednesday from the campaign. "Over the phone, she read me some passages from Mrs. Obama's speech as examples. I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech."
The controversy hung over the opening days of the GOP convention, overshadowing Mrs. Trump's performance, which was warmly received by those in the convention hall.
It also distracted from an event designed to unify Republicans behind the billionaire businessman, while introducing his family to the nation.
For two days, the Trump campaign tried to brush aside any talk of plagiarism, calling the criticism absurd.
The pushback from the Trump campaign was hard. At one point, campaign co-chairman Paul Manafort blamed Hillary Clinton for the controversy, though he offered no coherent theory on how she could have orchestrated it.
The controversy erupted on social media Monday night after her speech as sharp-eyed viewers expressed outrage over the speech's similarities to the one Mrs. Obama delivered at the 2008 Democratic convention. It continued Tuesday as the Trump campaign's explanation failed to mollify critics.
McIver, co-author of some of Donald Trump's books, said she offered to resign but the Republican nominee for president refused to accept her resignation.
The passages in question came near the beginning of Mrs. Trump's nearly 15-minute speech.
In one example, Mrs. Trump said: "From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect."
Eight years ago, Mrs. Obama said: "And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: like, you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, that you do what you say you're going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect."
There were similar overlaps in a passage dealing with conveying to children that there is no limit to what they can achieve. Mrs. Trump's address was otherwise distinct from the speech that Mrs. Obama gave when her husband was being nominated for president.
According to anti-plagiarism website TurnItIn.com, the chance of two speakers using the same 23 words in a row are less than one in 1 trillion. Such "clone plagiarism" is easy for anti-plagiarism programs to catch, said Chris Healey, the Goodnight Distinguished Professor of Analytics at North Carolina State University's Institute for Advanced Analytics.
"They start with a single word, and then they move on to two words, three words, four words, and they look at the size of what's called the window of similarity," Healey said. "The larger that window of similarity is, the higher the confidence is that the software's going to report something here looks like it's similar."
Harder to detect is "find-and-replace plagiarism," where someone makes small changes to words or phrases in someone else's writing. Healey said that's why the software also checks for context.
"It's how you're constructing the solution, how you're constructing your argument," he said. "They recognize that students are going to try to get around basic word matching by simply changing words to something that means the same thing but aren't the same words."
Anti-plagiarism programs are widely used in higher education, but the final decision is always made by a human, he said, because sometimes there is another explanation for similarities.
For Mrs. Trump, 46, a Slovenian-born former model who is Donald Trump's third wife and 24 years his junior, the controversy marred a moment in the spotlight that had been months in the making.
The speech required her to overcome her wariness about public speaking and the traditional role of the politician's wife, as well as her heavily accented English, to present herself to the public as her husband's partner, a poised mother and wife passionate about issues affecting women and children.
"I did not check Mrs. Obama's speeches. This was my mistake, and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama," McIver said. "No harm was meant."
McIver was described in the statement as an "in-house staff writer at the Trump Organization."
McIver started at the Trump Organization in 2001, according to her profile on the website of a booking agency called the All American Speakers Bureau.
Before that, she worked on Wall Street, according to the profile. She is originally from San Jose, California. The profile says she trained at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet and graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in English.
"I asked to put out this statement because I did not like seeing the way this was distracting from Mr. Trump's historic campaign for president and Melania's beautiful message and presentation," McIver said.
She apologized for "the confusion and hysteria my mistake has caused."