GOP Convention: How to Check a Speech for Plagiarism | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
Decision 2016

Decision 2016

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GOP Convention: How to Check a Speech for Plagiarism

Social media erupted over Melania Trump's RNC speech, which a company found used 23 of the same words that Michelle Obama's eight years before



    Chris Harrick, spokesman for Turnitin's plagiarism checking company, says a preliminary analysis shows that about 6 percent of Melania Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention matched portions of Michelle Obama's 2008 speech. Bob Redell reports. (Published Tuesday, July 19, 2016)

    An Oakland, California, company dedicated to rooting out plagiarism was hopping on Tuesday, hours after Melania Trump's speech to the Republican National Convention raised questions about what it took from Michelle Obama's speech in 2008.

    Turnitin spokesman Chris Harrick popped both speeches into his company's anti-plagiarism algorithm at NBC Bay Area's request and found that six percent of Trump's speech to the convention on Monday in Cleveland, matched the first lady's eight years ago. Trump used 63 words that matched Obama's, and of those, 23 were "cloned" in the same exact sequence from the 2008 speech, the text analysis company found.

    "I won't answer what percentage counts as plagiarism or not," Harrick said, "but our mission is to show that writing with integrity matters."

    Back-To-Back Speeches: Melania Trump and Michelle ObamaBack-To-Back Speeches: Melania Trump and Michelle ObamaMelania Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention contained two passages that match nearly word-for-word the speech given by Michelle Obama in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention. (Published Tuesday, July 19, 2016)

    Comparisons of the two speeches flooded the news and social media near midnight, as the convention drew to a close, on Monday. On Tuesday, members of the Trump team defended Trump or, like campaign manager Paul Manafort, denied there was any plagiarism at all.

    Trying to tamp down the controversy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on NBC's "Today" show that "93 percent of the speech is completely different" from the speech Obama delivered at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He did not explain how he arrived at the 93 percent figure, though it was remarkably similar to the Turnitin analysis.

    To put Monday's incident in context, Harrick gave this example: Say a student were asked to turn in a 1,000-word poem and wrote every word herself, except for the first line of "To be or not to be, that is the question?" Isn't that cheating? Harrick asked rhetorically.

    That said, scientists often use the exact same words to explain something because those are the only words that can be used to describe a phenomenon like genome sequencing, Harrick said. His company has even come up with a plagiarism spectrum, from "cloning" exact words and phrases to "find and replacing" words, which Trump did, to retweeting without sourcing.

    Journalists weren't the only ones wanting to see the similarities between the two speeches. Harrick said he estimates "hundreds" of his company's clients, mostly professors and universities, were using the algorithm to see the same thing on Tuesday.

    A line-by-line comparison by writing analysis company Turnitin of a presidential convention speech given in 2008 by Michelle Obama and one by Melania Trump in 2016. Read more at
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    Turnitin's computer program found that Trump copied about two dozen words word-for-word from Obama's speech eight years ago.

    Trump said on Monday: ..and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."

    Obama said in 2008: "...and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children – and all children in this nation – to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."

    There were other incidents in which Trump's speech kept some of the same wording as Obama's.

    Harrick said this is the biggest question of plagiarism Turnitin has ever been asked to decipher since the company was founded in 1998. And Harrick said the company is hoping take this 15 minutes of a teachable moment to impress what copying can do to prevent people from doing it in the future.

    "Think for yourself," he said. "Or you'll run into problems down the road."