News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Anatomy of a defamation: the attempted lynching of Michelle Obama

As the GOP grappled with hard evidence that Melania Trump incorporated  verbatim portions of Michelle Obama's speech into her own, without acknowledging the source, it put forth the charge that Michelle's speech was plagiarized.  It is the juvenile tactic of 
trying to deflect blame for wrongdoing by accusing someone else of the same act.The claim is that Michelle Obama plagiarized a part of her speech from Saul Alinsky. 

Here is the part of the speech that was said to be plagiarized:  


Barack stood up that day and spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about the world as it is and the world as it should be. And he said that all too often, we accept the distance between the two and settle for the world as it is — even when it doesn't reflect our values and aspirations. 

The claim is that she plagiarized that from Saul Alinksy's Rules for Radicals:


3. As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.
Michelle Obama is not  claiming or implying that the words about the "the world as it is" are her own.  She is recounting a speech she heard Barack Obama give to some people in Chicago at a neighborhood organizing event.  Her reporting of the words she heard in someone else's speech can in no way be contorted into an act of plagiarism.  The question could be raised about whether Barack Obama gave attribution for those words, but that would be straining to make a blameworthy point.  The words about the world as it is and as it should or could be have been used in discussions by social philosophers throughout recorded history.  Socrates raised the issue with quite a different take:  “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

Snopes investigated the claim against Michelle Obama and also found it abjectly and stupidly contrived out of malice, not fact:


A simplistic comparison of Alinksy and Mrs. Obama's uses of "the world as it is" and "the world as it should be" (phrases that were arguably exceedingly common in concept for policy speeches) suggested a surface likeness. But Alinsky's purportedly plagiarized half-sentence was part of a passage about adopting a realistic approach to "the world as it is" versus "the world as it should be." By contrast, Michelle Obama was paraphrasing her husband's lamenting acceptance of "the world as it is" when "the world as it should be ... reflect[ed] our values and aspirations" and was not expressing it as her own thought. 
As such, the plagiarism claim applied to Mrs. Obama was weak on its face, given that it involved a mere eight common words supposedly lifted from the oft-invoked Alinsky and expressed a notion opposite to the one offered by Alinsky.

Alinsky was a social organizer in Chicago.  His radicalism was not based on a particular political idea other than that social organization can be used to help people who need it.  Conservatives intensely hate Alinksy because his causes addressed economic and social inequalities imposed on them by the system under which they lived.  What enraged conservatives was his success in throwing off the oppressive factors in south Chicago.  He thought that ruthless repression had to be met with ruthless opposition.  

When Ben Carson identified Hillary Clinton with Saul Alinsky and Lucifer,  he did so with profound ignorance and malice.  Hillary wrote her baccalaureate thesis on Alinsky and had personal contact with him,  but she also had reservations about some of his tactics.  Barrack Obama was a social organizer in the same area that Alinsky worked, and he would obviously be acquainted with Alinsky's theories and methods, but own approach was often the opposite of Alinsky's.   Too conservatives, Alinsky is a pariah, and they constantly try to link their opponents with him.  

Politics has always had the willfully ignorant and malicious.  In our time, cable news and the Internet have given them amplifiers.  Those who circulate the charge of Michelle Obama plagiarizing Alinksy are members of that group and need to be identified as such.  What they say rises from endemic untruthfulness and malice.  And that is what defines defamation.  

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