By now you all know about the striking similarities between parts of Melania Trump and Michelle Obama’s convention speeches in support of their husbands. Make sure you’re ready to apply all the learnings, including:
• Don’t plagiarize.
• Don’t plagiarize from those you’re trying to make look bad.
• Don’t pretend to write things you don’t write (which is different than plagiarizing).
• Don’t make your boss’s wife look bad.
• Don’t abrogate responsibility for things that matter most.
• When you’re in a hole, stop digging.
It used to be relatively easy to “borrow” others’ words and modify them to make them your own. In some ways, the Internet has made that even easier. Cutting and pasting beats retyping every time.
On the other hand, the Internet has made it easier for people to catch you. There are programs that compare documents and find matching strings of words. And, as the Trump campaign knows all too well, videos don’t go away.
Don’t Plagiarize From Those You’re Trying To Make Look Bad
It would have been one thing if Republican Melania Trump had borrowed words and phrases from Republican Nancy Reagan, strengthening the perception of their ideological ties. Instead, the borrowed words were from Democrat Michelle Obama. Hard for the Trumps to paint the Obamas as wrong about everything if they are borrowing their words.
Some suggest imitation is the highest form of flattery. Since plagiarism is a form of imitation, you shouldn’t plagiarize from people you don’t want to flatter.
Don’t Pretend To Write Things You Don’t Write
In an interview with the Today Show’s Matt Lauer the night before her speech, talking about her speech, Melania said “I wrote it with as little help as possible.” Nothing wrong with that if a) she did write it and b) the Trump staffer that did write it hadn’t plagiarized.
But she didn’t write it and the Trump staffer didn’t write it all. By claiming work that wasn’t hers, it was difficult for Melania to separate herself from the error.
Don’t Make Your Boss’s Wife Look Bad
Speaking of the Trump staffer, 24 hours after the controversy erupted, Meredith McIver finally took responsibility for the offending passages. As a professional who writes for a living, she should have known better. Don’t do things that make you look bad. Don’t do things that make your boss look bad. And certainly don’t do things that make people your boss cares about look bad.
Don’t Abrogate Responsibility For Things That Matter Most
McIver should have known better. And Donald Trump and his management team should have paid attention. You can delegate responsibility. But you can’t delegate accountability. McIver’s error made Melania and Donald and everyone involved in the Trump campaign look bad. They look bad for the plagiarism. They look bad for not catching it.
Even if Melania didn’t write it, she gave the speech. She owns it.
When You’re In A Hole, Stop Digging
It’s rarely the mistake that undoes anyone. It’s the cover up. Had the Trump campaign owned up to the mistake immediately, explained how it happened and apologized profusely, the incident may have passed. Instead they denied and deflected for 24 hours and fueled the fire.
We’ve seen this play out time and time again. Way too many people try too long to fix things they can’t fix. Sometimes they can fix them. If they can’t, their efforts end up compounding the problem. It’s a judgment call. Just know that the downside risk increases over time.
Everything communicates: what you do and don’t do, say and don’t say and when.
• Own your own words and credit others as appropriate whether you’re writing them or speaking them.
• The higher the stakes, the more you should prepare and check things and the more you should double check the checkers.
• When you do make a mistake — which you will — admit it, apologize for it, do what you must to make sure you don’t repeat it, and move on.