You know what they say ...

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Kathleen Parker

— Im­i­ta­tion may be the high­est form of flat­tery, but pla­gia­rism, not so much.

This is es­pe­cially so if you’re Me­la­nia Trump on open­ing night at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

Or, is it? By the re­ac­tion, both within and with­out the cam­paign, you’d have thought the woman had lifted Lady Mac­beth’s “Out, damned spot,” or, say, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s “What dif­fer­ence, at this point, does it make?”

In­stead, Me­la­nia Trump — or one of her speech­writ­ers — lifted nearly 60 words from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Demo­cratic con­ven­tion. The lines in ques­tion fall squarely in the cat­e­gory of boil­er­plate. Ba­nal, in other words, such that one won­ders why any­one would bother.

This isn’t to dis­par­age Michelle Obama’s speech, which was orig­i­nal to her and ben­e­fited from the ring of au­then­tic­ity and the fu­ture first lady’s pas­sion. Re­peated by Me­la­nia, it was as in­spir­ing as a for­tune cookie plat­i­tude.

What­ever the rea­son or who­ever was re­spon­si­ble for the ob­vi­ous du­pli­ca­tion, it was, just to be clear, pla­gia­rism — some­one else’s thoughts and words pre­sented as one’s own. A cou­ple of words were moved, per­haps to make the pla­gia­rist feel better, but the re­sult was to ruin what oth­er­wise was a rather sweet, if not quite tri­umphant, pre­sen­ta­tion by the for­eign-born wife of pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump. Was any­one re­ally ex­pect­ing more?

How sim­ple it would have been the day after to say “oops” and move along.

In­stead, cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort de­nied the pla­gia­rism Tues­day morn­ing. In a mat­ter of hours, sev­eral re­vi­sions and amend­ments to the de­nial were added. Me­la­nia wrote the speech her­self. No, she had speech­writ­ers. Does the truth re­ally hurt so much?

It is doubt­ful that any­one be­yond the me­dia (or the Trump cam­paign) cares much about this scandalous af­front to in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty (cough, cough). Half the coun­try watch­ing Mrs. Trump’s speech likely weren’t pay­ing close at­ten­tion to her words, given the vis­ual dis­trac­tion of her phys­i­cal pres­ence.

But, as al­ways, the han­dling of the episode has be­come the story. If we opened another for­tune cookie, it might read: “De­nial and cover-up are of­ten worse than the crime.” Here’s another: “Al­ways tell the truth as soon as pos­si­ble.” Trump, the man who fre­quently says, “Be­lieve me,” and “trust me,” may need to tweak his mes­sage.

More­over, isn’t the view from Trump Tower that deny-and-cover is Hil­lary Clin­ton’s tem­plate? If for no other rea­son, Trump’s peo­ple should have fessed up to, yes, horrors, mis­tak­enly us­ing some of Mrs. Obama’s speech. We’re so sorry. For­give this in­ad­ver­tent dis­play of ad­mi­ra­tion for her speech, which we stud­ied with­out in­tend­ing to copy.

End of story. As you know, this isn’t the way things went and an en­tire day of news cov­er­age (and now this col­umn) was de­voted to the pla­gia­rism fol­lowed by the de­cep­tion.

Again, few seem to care as much as the me­dia do in part be­cause re­porters and writ­ers are nec­es­sar­ily at­tuned to the risks and con­se­quences of pla­gia­rism. Oth­er­wise, most peo­ple rec­og­nize that lead­ers and CEOs have to rely on staff and speech­writ­ers to get things right. Some­times they screw up. In a high- pro­file case such as this, they’re usu­ally fired and the ship sails on.

But Trump’s cam­paign made it known Tues­day that no one would be fired, leav­ing peo­ple to won­der what re­ally hap­pened. Manafort’s de­nial and ag­gres­sive dis­missal of any­one ques­tion­ing the speech’s ori­gins sug­gests that the never-wrong nar­cis­sism of the boss is ei­ther con­ta­gious — or Trump likes to sur­round him­self with mir­ror images.

Then again, maybe he’s pro­tect­ing the boss’ wife.

The truth is, Me­la­nia prob­a­bly didn’t write her speech, though as is typ­i­cal, she worked with speech­writ­ers, one of whom may have pur­loined Obama’s words. It’s too bad be­cause Trump could have used this episode as an op­por­tu­nity for com­pas­sion and per­haps even a sym­pa­thetic nar­ra­tive:

Me­la­nia is an im­mi­grant and a re­tired model. She’s not a pro­fes­sional writer. To pre­pare for her de­but, she wanted to see what other first ladies have said in their speeches. She was so moved by Mrs. Obama’s speech that she wanted to of­fer some of those same thoughts. She just doesn’t un­der­stand the rules about “bor­row­ing” oth­ers’ words.

They coulda made lemon­ade. In­stead, poor Me­la­nia was left hold­ing the le­mons.

Kathleen Parker is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Contact her at kath­leen­parker@ wash­post.com.

CLEVE­LAND

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