Since he lost his TV reporting job last year, Jarrett Hill has been looking for his next opportunity. It presented itself in an unexpected way.
Hill was sitting at a corner table Monday night in a Culver City Starbucks, drinking a venti iced coffee and watching the Republican National Convention on an MSNBC live stream. As Melania Trump spoke, she uttered a phrase that the 31-year-old California native had heard once before — from First Lady Michelle Obama.
“… the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams …,” Melania Trump said during her address to the Republican National Convention.
Instinctively, Hill finished the phrase aloud to his laptop screen: “… and your willingness to work for them.”
“Kind of like a song that you haven’t heard in a long time and you remember the lyrics as you hear them. Or a movie that you know the line to and you kind of respond to it,” he said.
He recalled the words from Michelle Obama’s speech because, he said, he had thought to himself at the time that it was “really beautifully written.”
“I believe I even wrote it down or typed it,” Hill said. “Obviously having no idea that eight years later I’d hear them again from a woman who wanted to be first lady speaking at a convention in front of 40 million people.”
When Hill googled Michelle Obama and parts of her memorable turn of phrase, her 2008 convention speech popped up. An hour later, after he had watched Melania Trump’s full speech again, he realized more than just a few words had been borrowed.
“That’s when it dawned on me, ‘Oh, this wasn’t like a line that happened to be similar,’” Hill said. “This is a paragraph of text that’s way too similar to be coincidental.”
Hill took to Twitter to share his discovery. He apparently was the first person to publicly note the similarities between the speeches.
The discovery prompted headlines across media outlets and flooded Hill with interview requests worldwide.
One of Hill’s tweets, highlighting text from Michelle Obama’s speech and sharing a link to a video of Melania Trump’s speech, states: “CORRECTION: Melania stole a whole graph from Michelle’s speech.”
It had been retweeted more than 20,000 times as of Tuesday.
The controversy prompted Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chief, to blame Hillary Clinton and the media for bringing attention to “50 words, and that includes ands and thes and things like that” that were similar to Michelle Obama’s speech.
“These are themes that are personal to her, but they’re personal to a lot of people depending on the stories of their lives,” he said, pointing out Melania Trump’s focus on her own story and what he referred to as “family values.”
“Obviously, Michelle Obama feels very much similar sentiments towards her family,” he said. “Care and respect and passion, those are not extraordinary words.”
Although Manafort blamed those who work for the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee, stating they were the “first to get it out there,” Hill said he has no connection with Clinton’s team.
“Other than being a registered Democrat, I don’t have any real connection to the Clinton campaign,” he said. “I’m sure it’s a good payroll to be on, but I’m definitely not on it.”
Hill said he expected the convention to churn out some “spectacle.”
“You kind of expect something is going to happen here,” he said. “I did not think that the something that was going to happen was going to be me, or my tweet, or Melania using words that we’d heard before.”
Hill, who is from Fairfield, Calif., moved to Los Angeles in 2011 to work in television. In 2014, he was hired by ABC Action News WFTS in Florida to work as a producer and a digital on-camera reporter.
He lost his job in April 2015, less than a week after celebrating his 30th birthday.
“It was a gut-wrenching loss for sure,” he said. “I moved to Florida for the job and then got laid off eight months after.”
Now, things are looking up for Hill, who pulled up for his next interview in a car provided by CNN. Dressed in a blue blazer and white shirt, he seemed still in shock over the attention his Twitter feed had garnered.
He has done interviews with outlets that include the BBC, New York Times, Access Hollywood and MSNBC, and estimates that he has dozens of other media requests.
“I would love to get a great job from this, doing something that I love,” he said, “but I don’t think I’ve even processed all of what’s happening.”
Hill also received tweets and texts from former colleagues at ABC Action News WFTS, congratulating him and requesting an interview.
He hasn’t spoken to them yet, but said he planned to.
“I loved a lot of people I worked with there, but I’m a little salty,” Hill said. “I was really upset to have been laid off the way that I was.”
“My gut told me I’d come back to that station on a national story someday. No idea it would be like this.”
Times staff writer Noah Bierman contributed to this report.
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