Why Melania Trump’s Speech Affects the Communications Field

By: Marissa Salway, Director of Staff Relations

melania-michelle-800Credit: PEOPLE.com

If you have been paying attention to the news lately you probably heard about the plagiarized speech that Melania delivered at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Looking at the two speeches side by side it’s hard to argue that the speech was coincidentally similar to Michelle Obama’s speech eight years ago. However, there are people who argue that speeches often overlap all the time or pull from other speeches that emphasize their messages. Although there has been negative media attention surrounding the issue, the controversy blew over pretty quickly and has been deemed insignificant by many people.

From a PR perspective, and as a student in general, this issue is important because the consequences of plagiarism have been drilled into our brains since we were in grammar school. The general concept is that you cannot claim another person’s work is your own. If you are going to utilize another person’s work or ideas you have to cite it. There is nothing wrong with imitation, but copying someone’s work word for word is unethical. Neither Melania nor her staff ever cited Michelle’s work in the speech.

The main problem is the staff writer who admitted to the plagiarism was not fired or punished. This sends a completely mixed message to students, up and coming professionals, and current working professionals. If there are no consequences for a plagiarized speech that is aired on national television in front of millions of viewers, what is to stop a Media Relations Specialist from plagiarizing press releases?  This becomes problematic for fields where plagiarism is grounds for termination, such as journalists or public relations specialists.

Governor Chris Christie argues that the speech is 93% authentic, and former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski excused the mistake because English isn’t Melania’s first language.  Does that mean the other 7% doesn’t matter or it is okay for an English speaker to plagiarize a Spanish speaker’s work?

Although this issue may not appear to be important to some, for the communications field it raises a lot of questions regarding ethics for practitioners.

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