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A lesson in plagiarism for Melania Trump

A lesson in plagiarism for Melania Trump
Melania Trump speaks at the Republican National Convention. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

After Melania Trump gave the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention Monday night, charges of plagiarism swiftly followed. Several sentences of her speech hewed closely to the speech given by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

It's still to be determined whether this was a case of plagiarism, a speechwriter's goof or simple coincidence. But in the past, plagiarism has gotten writers and politicians in hot water.  In 1988, then-Sen. Joe Biden was accused of lifting parts of a campaign speech from British politician Neil Kinnock. The controversy helped kill Biden's run for president that year.

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Let that be a warning to politicians and writers who might think that they can get away with lifting words from someone else. Here are some of the biggest recent cases.

1. Stephen Ambrose. The late journalist and historian failed to attribute quotes properly in several of his books. Ambrose, who died of cancer shortly after the accusations were made public, offered a meek defense, writing, "The people will judge. The reading public will decide whether my books are fraudulent and react accordingly."

2. Ben Carson. Last year, Ben Carson, the surgeon and former Republican presidential candidate, was forced to apologize after it was revealed that his book "America the Beautiful" contained plagiarized passages from several sources, including a website called SocialismSucks.net.

3. Molly Ivins. The late liberal columnist, considered one of Texas' most incisive political commentators, was accused of plagiarism by conservative humorist Florence King. King wrote that she wished she could challenge Ivins to a duel over the lifted passages; Ivins responded with an apology (and some profanity).

4. Alex Haley. The author of the novel "Roots" settled a lawsuit brought against him by writer Harold Courlander, who alleged Haley had lifted several pages from Courlander's novel "The African." The evidence was clear enough that Haley agreed to pay Courlander $650,000 and issue a public apology.

5. Doris Kearns Goodwin. In 2002, several publications reported that the popular historian had plagiarized other writers in her books "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "No Ordinary Time." Goodwin claimed that it wasn't plagiarism because she didn't intend to mislead anyone, saying, "You know, at the time the book was written, it absolutely required intent to deceive in order to be plagiarism. And no one is claiming that. No one is claiming that there was any intent."

6. Jonah Lehrer. In 2012, the author of "Proust Was a Neuroscientist" was accused of stealing from multiple sources and fabricating Bob Dylan quotes in his book "Imagine," which was pulled from shelves. Lehrer returned this month with "A Book About Love," reviewed Sunday in the L.A. Times

In case you missed the speeches, here's how close they are. A section of Melania Trump's speech reads: "From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life. That your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise. That you treat people with respect."

Michelle Obama's 2008 speech read in part: "Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect … ."

Donald Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, defended the wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee and denied her speech was plagiarized. "There's no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech," he told CNN. "These are common words and values. … To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama's words is crazy."

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