In June, The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, is slated to release her new children’s book, The Bench. According to Markle, the book is based on a poem she wrote for her husband, Prince Harry, on his first Father’s Day after the birth of their son.
The book has proven to be controversial even before its release, with many criticzing the relationship Markle has with her own father.
Amid that backlash, several Twitter users noted similarities between The Bench and the 2018 book The Boy on the Bench by Corrinne Averiss. Users claimed that Markle not only had a similar title and similar story, but similar artwork to Averiss’ book.
However, that accusation was shot down by none other than Averiss herself, who took to Twitter to say that saw no similarities between the works and that it was not the same story or the same theme.
To be clear, Markle’s book isn’t out yet. This means that the public, including Averiss, has not read the book. All that is available is a published excerpt and that was only released yesterday as part of the announcement. There’s no way that these allegations were made after examining the works involved but, in spite of the weak origins of these allegations, many major news outlets covered them, especially in the UK.
This isn’t the first time that it’s happened to Markle either. In February 2020, she was accused of copying phrasing from a 1951 speech by Elanor Roosevelt when Markle gave a speech on International Women’s Day.
In October 2020, she was accused of plagiarism in a speech given at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Virtual Summit. There she was accused of copying phrasing from the documentary The Social Dilemma.
However, neither of these stories gained much traction outside of circles that were already critical of Markle.
In short, these aren’t stories about plagiarism, they are stories about Meghan Markle and how one feels about these incidents probably says more about their feelings toward her than their feelings about plagiarism.
Celebrities and Politics Collide
Markle is a polarizing figure, especially following her criticisms of the royal family. To those that dislike her, plagiarism has been an easy weapon to wield. As a public figure it is easy for them to find instances where her words were similar to what someone else said in the past.
It doesn’t matter if the alleged plagiarism is actually serious or if it is even plagiarism at all. Plagiarism is an easy tool to use to discredit her and the allegations will be repeated without much investigation by those that already dislike her.
This is a pattern we’ve seen repeated many times over in politics as politicians routinely face allegations of plagiarism that rarely go anywhere. Political opponents find what they see as too-similar phrasing or a missed attribution and accuse them of plagiarism. That is repeated by others that share the same ideology and all but the most extreme stories end up fizzling out.
For people that are interested in plagiarism, this can be a serious problem. Most plagiarism “scandals” end up being non-stories or extremely minor ones. This can cause actually serious cases of political plagiarism to fly under the radar.
However, this story takes things to a new level. The book in question isn’t even out yet and none of the people making the accusations have read it. It was a guess that the book is a plagiarism and it’s a guess that the allegedly plagiarized author disputes.
Is it possible that the book is plagiarized? Yes. But that’s a decision that will need to be made after the book is released and the full work can be examined. Right now, all one can do is take guesses but that was something that many were happy to do.
Celebrity and political plagiarism scandals are a never-ending source of frustration for me and others that follow plagiarism closely as they inevitably become more about judging the alleged plagiarist than the alleged plagiarism.
To be clear, reasonable people can disagree about what is and is not plagiarism. But that isn’t what happens with these kinds of stories. In most cases, people have made their mind up about what is and is not plagiarism based on their views of the person, not the actions in question.
This case just proves that. To many, Markle was guilty of plagiarism before the book was even out and she is still guilty even though her alleged victim has defended her.
Stories like this aren’t plagiarism stories, even when actual plagiarism is involved. People, in general, are much more passionate about politicians and celebrities than they are plagiarism, and it shows in how these stories are presented and covered.
That, unfortunately, has the impact of devaluing the severity of plagiarism and enabling actual plagiarists to escape consequences.
In the end, no one wins… except plagiarists.