The fake journalists at Comedy Central's "Daily Show" were playing Tuesday when Donald Trump Jr. said this: "Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class; now they're stalled on the ground floor. They're like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students."
Junior's phrasing was awfully similar to a passage from a recent essay in the American Conservative, where F.H. Buckley wrote this: "What should be an elevator to the upper class is stalled on the ground floor. Part of the fault for this may be laid at the feet of the system’s entrenched interests: the teachers' unions and the higher-education professoriate. Our schools and universities are like the old Soviet department stores whose mission was to serve the interests of the sales clerks and not the customers."
The result was a bunch of headlines like these:
Did Donald Trump Jr. just plagiarize his speech, too? (Vanity Fair)Now Donald Trump Jr. is accused of plagiarizing HIS speech! (RedState)Donald Trump Jr.'s speech was also cribbed (ThinkProgress)
But as The Fix's Philip Bump explained Wednesday, the controversy quickly died when it turned out that Buckley helped write Donald Trump Jr.'s speech. So he was really just stealing from himself.
Here at The Fix, we also scrubbed Mike Pence's Wednesday-night address and found phrases borrowed from Ronald Reagan, the Bible and Bill Clinton, of all people. But as Aaron Blake noted, these were more like hat-tips to familiar texts than attempts by Pence to pass off someone else's ideas as his own (though not all news outlets were so charitable in their assessments).
Then there's this: Breitbart News, which can always be counted on to defend the Trumps, published a story under the headline "Michelle Obama copied Alinsky in speech Melania Trump allegedly plagiarized." The argument was that the original material in question really wasn't all that original.
Here's the key passage, from a part of her speech when Michelle Obama was recalling remarks her husband delivered at a neighborhood gathering in Chicago: "Barack stood up that day, and he spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about the world as it is and the world as it should be."
"Rules for Radicals" is a touchstone for some liberals. The Obamas' borrowing of an Alinsky phrase can probably be most fairly placed into the same hat-tip category as Pence's echoing of Reagan — an homage that members of a partisan audience are likely to recognize and appreciate. Barack Obama has juxtaposed the "world as it is" and the "world as it should be" in a few speeches as president, too.
Incidentally, Alinsky just came up at the Republican convention in a speech by Ben Carson, who noted that "Rules for Radicals" refers to Lucifer as "the first radical known to man, who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom." Alinsky was the subject of Hillary Clinton's undergraduate thesis, and she later wrote in a book that "I agreed with some of Alinsky's ideas, particularly the value of empowering people to help themselves."
"Are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer?" Carson asked the GOP convention crowd.
All of the doctor's citations seemed to be in order.
This isn’t entirely new. BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, for one, is always on the lookout, documenting multiple instances of plagiarism in a book written by Carson and catching several Republican politicians copying and pasting from Rand Paul’s website. Kaczynski has uncovered plagiarism by Paul, too.
Now, much of the press corps is joining the hunt. Speakers, beware.