Melaniagate: A Symptom of Media-itis

“Melania Trump’s speech may not have been original but her dress was.” – The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record.


S. Atanya


On a day when an Afghan youth armed with a knife and axe started hacking fellow passengers on a train in southern Germany and North Korea test fired three home-made missiles based on Soviet technology, most newspapers seemed obsessed with a single paragraph of presumptive Republican Party Presidential nominee, Donald Trump’s wife’s speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC).

To roaring the applause of her Republican Party admirers, Mrs. Trump gave a speech, which had a couple of lines in it that mirrored in good measure that of Michelle Obama’s similar speech to the Democratic National Convention. Both had talked about growing up with values of hard work instilled in them. Both specifically used the words, “your word is your bond.” And, thus a plagiarism scandal was born…

Unemployed journalist and former speech-writer Jarrett Hill was the first loud voice to point out the similarity. Later, he tweeted (one can infer with excitement) “CORRECTION: Melania stole a whole graph from Michelle’s speech.”

According to the LA Times, with no actual work to do, 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.” Recognizing the turn of phrase, he googled Michelle Obama’s 2008 conventions speech. And, he was off the races, being the first person to tweet about it.

The 30 year old lost his job ABC Action News WFTS in Florida as a digital reporter and producer in April 2015.

“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.”

Having freelanced for places like Huffington Post and Independent Television News in Britain and running an interior design business on the side, Hill has since been working with his agent to garner other opportunities. Sitting in Starbucks – and knowing how the idiot box of TV news – and the written word that follows – works, he found a golden one in Mrs. Trump’s words.

Writes the LA Times: “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.”

“I would love to get a great job from this,” he said to the Times. Based on the crazed response to the twitter feed, he seems well on his way.


Meanwhile, back in Germany, investigators, still reeling like other Europeans from the apparent lone wolf attack in Nice, days earlier, and troubled by the similarities to the train attack (the attacker had shouted “Allah Hu Akbar” – God is Great – during the attack) found a hand-painted Islamic State flag among his belonging at his home.

German interior Minister, Joachim Herrmann told German ZDF Television that the alleged attacker came to Germany two years ago as an unaccompanied minor, and applied for asylum in March. He lived in a home for teenage refugees until two weeks ago when he was placed with a foster family.

Incidents like these only heighten the fears of Europeans that Germany’s open door policy to refugees and other migrants has potentially exposed them to act of terrorism. Indeed, this was one of the key points of ‘Campaign Fear’ that helped push the British electorate just over the majority mark in the vote to leave Europe.

Across the pond, as they say, a day after Obama appealed for calm as three more police officers were shot and killed in racially charged Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the media was abuzz comparing what two glamorous women married to powerful men – but with no official role in public political life or public policy – had to say about the family values that made them who they are.

Of course, for Michelle Obama, the value of elbow grease, apparently instilled in her by her parents, most definitely affected her growing-up: born to water plant worker, both her sides of her family were descendent from pre-civil war slaves. Though her father was politically connected, being a Democratic Party precinct captain, her family was far from privileged. She has referred to her upbringing a middle class and “conventional” – father working, mother at home. While she may have benefited from her brother’s alumni status at Princeton University when she gained admission to do a BA in Sociology, she graduated cum laude, and went on to do a J.D. at Harvard, joining the sixth largest corporate law firm in the US, Sidney Austin LLP. She went on to hold public sector positions, and remained involved in the Black community and Methodist Church community activities.

While Melania Trump can claim a similar upbringing (how lavish a life could one have, after all, growing up in an Eastern Block Socialist country?) her father had a privileged position in Tito’s Yugoslavia, managing car and motorcycle dealerships for the state. She had studied design but dropped out of university to pursue a modelling career, making it on the cover of Harper’s Bazar and other magazines.

obama graduate

Whether modelling is hard work may well be a question for the American press but one thing is clear, whereas Michelle Obama’a rise was due to her intellect and drive, Melania Trump’s career hinged on how she looked – and it ultimately got her noticed by Billionaire Donald Trump. There was no mention of the value good looks in her speech at the RNC. Instead, it appears that the Trump campaign felt she could be made into an Eastern European version of Michelle Obama. Their miscalculations aside, this could hardly be considered news – unless you live in Trumpland. Whether Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton wins the election, one thing is clear: somewhere along the way, the United States of America stopped being a place where serious issues actually get aired in the public sphere.

So, terror in Europe, an impending race war in certain US cities – these stories took a back seat. Such headlines bled into the page like ink on a makeshift newspaper umbrella – this, even as ISIS claimed the attacker in Germany was one of their “soldiers.”
The teenaged attacker in Germany, likely spawned of violence and religious dogma, was shot dead as he fled the scene. The ISIS propaganda agency, Amaq, proclaimed him a martyr, releasing a statement, claiming him as one of their own.

“The perpetrator of the stabbing attack in Germany was one of the fighters of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in answer to the calls to target the countries of the coalition fighting the Islamic State,” the statement said. ISIS has released a suicide video of the alleged attacker.

The attack left three members of a Hong Kong-based family seriously injured and fourteen other passengers in shock.
“The perpetrator was able to leave the train, police left in pursuit and as part of this pursuit, they shot the attacker and killed him,” said a spokesman for the Wurzburg police.

What’s of increasing concern about these ‘lone wolf’ attacks is that the last two in Germany were ‘lone cub’ attacks, perpetrated by violent minors: kids fleeing apparently strife and let into Germany on humanitarian grounds. In February, a 15-year-old girl identified as Safia S. stabbed a Hanover policeman in the neck with a kitchen knife in what prosecutors later said was an ISIS-inspired attack. She had attacked the officer during a routine check at Hanover train station in the country’s north before being overpowered by another police officer.

According to the UK newspaper, The Telegraph, on December 31st, 2015, “hundreds of sexual assaults were reported against women,” with police describing the assailants as Arab refugees. The migrants were among two million, who reportedly entered Germany in 2015, after Angela Merkel announced an “open door” policy on humanitarian grounds.

Incidents like those in Nice and Germany only burnish the case of people who hold similar opinions to Trump – the so called, “Angry Americans.”Perhaps if the press paid more attention to serious issues, this anger could be refocused on problems that affect the greatest number – like the impending global environmental crisis.

german train attack


Remember Climate Change – that thing Al Gore seemed to drone on about in his boring presentation that was made into a movie? Efforts of Leonardo Dicaprio, James Cameron, Harrison Ford and other celebrities aside, it’s been a long while since any public figure with actual power, made it a priority as a point of discussion in the public sphere.
And, yet the changing climate affects everybody, regardless of political stripe – even deniers like Trump. His luxury resort Mar-A-Lago is slowly sinking into the sea as water levels rise due to melting polar ice. Still, the issue gets scant little coverage compared to stories like Melania allegedly copying Michelle’s words.

The environment would have been missing from the presidential campaigns had Bernie Saunders not picked up the mantle during his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination. Described as a climate hawk, Mother Jones summarized his climate record in a series of bullet points when he announced his candidacy over a year ago:

  • “In 2013, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sanders introduced the Climate Protection Act, a fee-and-dividend bill. It would tax carbon and methane emissions and rebate three-fifths of the revenue to citizens, then invest the remainder in energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate resiliency. The bill, of course, went nowhere (even if it had advanced in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it would have been DOA in the Republican-controlled House), but it shows that Sanders supports serious solutions and wants to keep the conversation going.
  • Also in 2013, Sanders introduced the Residential Energy Savings Act to fund financing programs that would help residents retrofit their homes for energy efficiency. This bill didn’t become law either.
  • In 2012, Sanders introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, to get rid of special tax deductions and credits for coal, oil, and gas producers. As he wrote in Grist at the time, “It is immoral that some in Congress advocate savage cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while those same people vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in America.” The bill didn’t pass.
  • In 2010, Sanders authored a bill to spread distributed solar throughout the country, the very literally named “10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act.” As Grist’s David Roberts explained, it would “provide rebates that cover up to half the cost of new systems, along the lines of incentive programs in California and New Jersey.” The bill didn’t pass.
  • In 2007, he co-wrote with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) the Green Jobs Act, which allocated funding for clean energy and energy efficiency research and job training. This did pass, as part of a big 2007 energy bill.
  • Also in 2007, with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), he cosponsored the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, to help states and local governments pay for efficiency and clean energy programs. It was also passed as part of the 2007 energy bill, and both the block grant program and the green jobs program got a funding infusion from the 2009 stimulus package.”

And so, the green wing of the Democratic Party got behind Sanders. Clinton had failed to impress, and as Naomi Klein pointed out in the spring, her coffer of substantial contributions from oil and gas companies, had eroded any credibility she had on the environment. Indeed, her statements on climate change consisted of vague promises to “work with Congress,” and – of all entities – energy companies!

The clearest indication of Clinton’s leanings occurred in June when Clinton supporters voted down a resolution presented to the DNC platform committee on a fracking moratorium. Fracking is an environmentally costly process by which oil companies extract crude from the Earth. It requires tremendous clean water, which could be used for other sources, and contributes dramatically to air pollution – and that’s long before the fuel is burned.

clinton sandersShouts of “Shame on you,” were drowned out by the Clinton campaign as their candidate steamrolled the greens on to the nomination.

Trump has on several occasions called climate change a “hoax,” which is somehow making money for people who apparently don’t deserve it. He has failed to elucidate the rationale for his unscientific conclusion. Moreover, Trump’s VP pick, Pence, is a well-known climate change denier.

In a well-known MSNBC interview in 2014, he was dismissive of the issue: “Well, look, I don’t know that that is a resolved issue in science today,” he said, adding, “I know we’re talking about climate change. But a few years ago, we were talking about global warming. We haven’t seen a lot of warming lately. I remember back in the ‘70s when we were talking about the coming ice age.”

Of course, that’s just a politician’s way of saying it’s a hoax. Add China to the mix, and he’ll be speaking Trump, word for word.
Where is the media in all this? They’re comparing hopeful first-lady speech lines.

One has to go back across the Atlantic to get some perspective. The Guardian recently did a poll of American readers to identify the “one issue that affects your life you wish the presidential candidates were discussing more”. The newspaper concluded based on the results of 1385 responses that, “resoundingly, the largest group of participants pointed to climate change.” Of course, how many American’s read The Guardian?

The American press seems as blasé about the issue as most Republican candidates for President (all but three were on record as being climate change deniers). It’s not that the issue hasn’t been debated by the Democrats – the issue just doesn’t sell papers, get Nielson ratings, or garner clicks on the internet.

The same Guardian article quoted a reader, Anthony Friedline, 31, who expressed his frustration with the media: “One party thinks it is a hoax, and on the other side no one wants to discuss it except Bernie Sanders who the media doesn’t want to give the time of day because he isn’t part of the ‘establishment’. Who cares about ‘establishment politics’ when the fate of the whole damn planet is in our hands and we, apparently, are going to do nothing to fix it?”

Climatologist, Michael Mann agrees, saying the media needs to put emphasis needs to be put on substantive issues rather than on, “frivolous and prurient matters that serve as little more than distraction and misdirection”

You mean like whether Melania plagiarized a paragraph from Michelle in a speech nobody cares about?

And so, it goes – and so it goes: to hide the thing that’s under the nose.

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