The Art of the Steal

Did Trump plagiarise content from CNN, The New York Times, and other big news outlets on defunct Trump University blog?

Since taking office, the Trump administration has repeatedly accused the news media, particularly U.S. network CNN, of reporting so-called “fake news.”

However, it appears that between 2006 and 2010 Trump plagiarised content from around a dozen major news publishers, including CNN, USA Today, and the New York Times, on his now-defunct Trump University blog (later re-named the Trump Initiative), a weekly column in which the former real estate mogul offered advice, personal anecdotes, and opinions to budding entrepreneurs.

Here are a few of the most blatant examples (a full list is available by clicking here).

1a. From “Honestly, All of Us Are Liars” by Jocelyn Voo, CNN, January 21, 2008:

Expert: Two kinds of lies – to help yourself, to protect others’ feelings
• People often tell little lies every day
Expert: Most white lies are told to strangers
Serious lies most often told to protect relationship

Admit it: At some point, you’ve lied. Maybe it was the time you told your aunt that her hand-knit holiday sweater was “exactly what you wanted.” Or when you explained to human resources that you’d missed the big company meeting because your grandmother died … again.

Take heart, though; you’re not Machiavellian. You’re just normal.


Most white lies (for instance, a person trying to present himself as more knowledgeable) are told to strangers.

Serious lies, she found, overwhelmingly are told to or by people close to the teller (such as a parent lying to her child about how sick a grandparent is), most often to protect that relationship.


Lying is not exactly extraordinary. In 2004, DePaulo asked college students at the University of Santa Barbara and members of the surrounding community to record every lie they told in one week. The results, published in “The Social Psychology of Good and Evil,” showed that college students lied at least once to 38 percent of the people they interacted with. Community members lied to 30 percent.


“In the abstract, it’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, we value honesty, and you should never lie,’” says DePaulo. But “sometimes in our real lives, our valuing of honesty clashes with something else we also value, like wanting to be gracious or kind or compassionate.”

In these ways, it’s unrealistic to be a completely Honest Abe.

1b. From “Honestly, All of Us Are Liars” by Donald Trump, Trump University, February 18, 2008:

Admit it. At some point it your life, you’ve lied. Maybe you tell white lies on a daily basis. Maybe you tell some all-out doozies. Whatever the case, don’t worry about it too much. You’re normal.

Experts say there are two kinds of lies – the lies that you tell to help yourself and the lies you tell to protect other people’s feelings, like when you tell someone they look good in that terrible pink-and-green tie.

Serious lies are most often told to protect relationships. That’s when people lie about cheating, for example. Obviously, they don’t want to get caught and they want to keep their marriages intact. Most white lies, however, are told to strangers.

Lying is not exactly extraordinary. During a recent study, people were asked to record every single lie they told in one week. The results showed that college students lied at least once to nearly 40 percent of the people they interacted with. The rest of the people lied to nearly one-third of the people. It’s amazing that lying is so second-nature to people.

So, I think it’s nice to say, “Don’t lie,” but it’s just not realistic. We do it to save other people’s feelings. We do it to protect ourselves. We do it to get what we want.

And sometimes it works.

2a. From “CEOs vouch for Waiter Rule: Watch how people treat staff” by Del Jones, USA Today, April 14, 2006:

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she treats the waiter.


And beware of anyone who pulls out the power card to say something like, “I could buy this place and fire you,” or “I know the owner and I could have you fired.” Those who say such things have revealed more about their character than about their wealth and power.


People view waiters as their temporary personal employees. Therefore, how executives treat waiters probably demonstrates how they treat their actual employees, says Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes, a former waitress and postal clerk, who says she is a demanding boss but never shouts at or demeans an employee.


Holtzman grew up in the coal-mining town of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and in the 1950s saw opportunity as a waiter 90 miles away in the Catskill Mountains, where customers did not tip until the end of the week. When they tipped poorly, he would say: “Sir, will you and your wife be tipping separately?”

2b. From “The Waiter Rule” by Donald Trump, Trump University, April 28, 2006:

Occasionally in the business world, I’ve heard people refer to something called “The Waiter Rule.” Simply put, how you treat a waiter or a waitress reveals a lot about your character. It may sound insignificant, but over the years I’ve found respect to play a significant role in wealth creation.

You would be amazed at how poorly some people treat waiters and waitresses. They yell at them if they forget an order or spill a drink. They threaten to have them fired, or even demand to speak to a supervisor. Their actions speak volumes and reveal more about their character than anything they could say or do in the most impressive business meetings or boardrooms.


How you treat a waiter demonstrates how you would most likely treat your actual employees. It shows the true makeup of your personality and your true disposition. You might be a demanding boss, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a demeaning and nasty one.

So think twice the next time you sit down at a table and get ready to order. And don’t forget to leave a big tip.

3a. From “One ‘Bad Apple’ Does Spoil the Whole Workplace” by JoAnne Allen, Reuters, February 12, 2007:

One “bad apple” can spread negative behavior like a virus to bring down officemates or destroy a good team, according to a new study examining conflict in the workplace.

Negative behavior outweighs positive behavior, so a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel, but one or two good workers can’t “unspoil” it, researchers at the University of Washington said in the current issue of the journal Research in Organizational Behavior.

“Companies need to move quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly,” said co-author Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization.

If a bad apple slips through screening in the hiring process, he or she should be placed to work alone as much as possible, the study’s lead author, William Felps, said.

3b. From “One Bad Apple” by Donald Trump, Trump University, February 25, 2007:

In nearly every workplace, there’s “one bad apple” – someone whose negative attitude is so apparent that it’s a deterrent to everyone else in the office.

It turns out that the old adage is true. One bad apple can truly spoil the whole barrel. A person with a negative attitude can spread those negative feelings like a dangerous virus, bringing down the rest of the office and destroying an otherwise healthy and well-functioning team.

A new study from researchers at the University of Washington examined conflict in the workplace. It found that negative behavior has much more of an impact than positive behavior. So while negative people can spoil an entire office environment, a couple of positive good workers can’t “unspoil” it.

“Companies need to move quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly,” said co-author Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization.


Ideally, bad apples shouldn’t be hired in the first place. When you’re hiring, avoid people who in general appear combative or disagreeable. It’s a sure omen of negativity in the future.

But if it’s too late and there’s already a negative person in place in your organization, the best you can do is keep him or her working alone as much as possible. The less interaction those negative people have with the rest of your team, the better. That way, their toxic attitudes won’t spread.

4a. From “Italy Posts Income Details on Web,” BBC News, May 1, 2008:

There has been outrage in Italy after the outgoing government published every Italian’s declared earnings and tax contributions on the internet.

The tax authority’s website was inundated by people curious to know how much their neighbours, celebrities or sports stars were making.

The Italian treasury suspended the website after a formal complaint from the country’s privacy watchdog.

The information was put on the site with no warning for nearly 24 hours.


But it was also hugely popular, and within hours the site was overwhelmed and impossible to access.

The finance ministry described the move as a bid to improve transparency.

Deputy Economic Minister Vincenzo Visco said he could not understand what all the fuss was about.

4b. From “Italy Posts Salaries Online” by Donald Trump, Trump University, June 16, 2008:

There was a lot of outrage in Italy recently after the government published every citizen’s income on the Internet. The tax authority’s website was swamped with people snooping to see how much their neighbors and co-workers and celebrities earned.

Within hours of the site going up, it was so overwhelmed that it was nearly impossible to access.

But the site stayed up for nearly 24 hours until it was suspended after a formal complaint was filed. Although critics complained that it was an outrageous breach of privacy, some government officials said they didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

5a. From “Poll Finds Growing Majority of Americans Avoiding Housing Market,” The New York Times, April 14, 2008:

A growing majority of Americans say they will not buy a home anytime soon, the latest sign of increasing pessimism about the country’s housing crisis, a poll showed Monday.

In a vivid sketch of how the sputtering real estate market is causing distress throughout the country, the Associated Press-AOL Money & Finance poll found that more than a quarter of homeowners worry that their home will lose value over the next two years.

Fully one in seven mortgage holders fear they will not be able to make their monthly payments on time over the next six months.


The growing reluctance to dip into the housing market seems to stem partly from worry that housing prices will continue falling – good if you are buying a house but bad if you have to sell one.


Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics for Moody’s, a consulting firm, estimated that nine million homeowners owe more on a home than it is worth. He said his company believed home sales were at or near bottom and home values would continue to fall until early next year.

5b. From “Afraid to Buy” by Donald Trump, Trump University, May 12, 2008:

It’s hardly a surprise but in the midst of today’s terrible economy and the nation’s housing crisis, the majority of Americans say they don’t plan to buy a home anytime soon.

In fact, more than a quarter of homeowners worry that their home will lose value over the next couple of years, and one in seven mortgage holders are afraid that they won’t be able to make their monthly payments in time over the next six months.

People are worried that housing prices will continue to fall which is good news if you want to buy but obviously terrible if you have a house to sell.

In addition, we have record-high foreclosure rates and an estimated 9 million homeowners actually owe more on their homes than they are actually worth. If you’re in that situation, the best thing you can do is to sit tight if you can and try to weather out the storm.

A different version of this item appeared on this blog on March 25, 2017.

Gay Panic, Poe’s Law, and the Strange Cult of Julian Assange

How my corrections story about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ended up on a bunch of fringe conspiracy websites

I recently blogged about The Sun, a popular British tabloid newspaper owned by Aussie media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

In March, the paper falsely reported that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was accused of raping two men during a 2010 visit to Sweden.


On my request, the paper corrected the error and added this note to the enclosing article: “A previous version of this story said that Assange had sex with two men who later accused him of rape. In actual fact they were women. The story was corrected on 10th March.”


Shortly after the correction was published, the article was heavily revised and the original reporter’s name replaced with the name “Eileen Weybridge.”


However, when I called the Sun’s personnel department I was told they had no records of anyone with that name.

After failing to get answers from the editor who made the correction, in May I blogged the story with the sub-heading, “Did The Sun newspaper create a fake reporter?” which I then sent to Assange with a request for comment.

Although Assange didn’t respond directly, he tweeted this…


…after which the story was picked up by the libertarian-leaning Free Thought Project and shared by a number of fringe conspiracy sites including that of British conspiracy theorist David Icke, who claims that the Queen is a shape-shifting lizard.


One YouTuber, speculating about the Sun’s initial reporting error, said he believed the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had planted the male rape claim to smear Assange.

Ironically, in March I’d joked that British authorities had planted the false claim to coax Assange out of self-imposed exile because if he were convicted of raping two women it would end any rumours about his sexuality.


The Takeaway

1. Fake bylines are a bad idea.
2. A simple corrections request can get very 
3. Assange’s fanbase includes vocal conspiracy theorists.
4. Gay panic is still a thing.
5. Never underestimate Poe’s Law.*

To read more about how this strange story developed, click here, here, and here.

*Poe’s Law: An internet adage which states that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it’s impossible to distinguish satire from the real thing.

When Authors Attack (Redux)

Guardian deletes article about “batty” romance/sci-fi author Candace Sams after claims someone hacked her e-mails

According to Google’s Transparency Report, the Texan author recently filed a copyright complaint for the search engine to delist a critical 2009 article published in the Guardian newspaper, “When Authors Attack” by multimedia books journalist Alison Flood.


Flood’s article said that the “wonderfully batty” Sams, using the pseudonym “Niteflyr One,” told Amazon users she’d reported them to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation because of negative reviews and comments she’d received for one of her books.

From there, things got even battier. Via the Lumen Database:

DMCA (Copyright) Complaint to Google

Candace Sams
Sent on October 02, 2016

Google Inc
Mountain View, CA, 94043, US
Received on October 02, 2016

Google Inc

Re: Unknown


Copyright claim #1

KIND OF WORK: Unspecified

Contents on the following websites/blog urls were taken from my private emails without my permission – after my email was hacked. Parts of my email can still be seen in whole or in part on both sites, in the blog narratives; neither site will respond to my requests for removal of that hacked email. Private email is protected by copyright, both sites know this but still post that material within their blogs, and without my permission.



Seeking to verify the authenticity of the takedown request and hoping to make sense of the bizarre hacking claims, earlier this month I e-mailed Flood and Sams.

On June 16, shortly after I sent my e-mails, the Guardian deleted Flood’s article, citing “privacy reasons.”


Did the Guardian delete the article as a result of my e-mail to Flood, and, if so, why? Did Sams ask the Guardian to delete the article, and, if so, why did it agree to her request?

I’ve asked the paper for comment.

Paramilitaries in Parliament

DUP councillor and former Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Frank McCoubrey was a key political advisor to one of Northern Ireland’s worst paramilitary organisations

From 2002 to 2012, McCoubrey headed the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), an advisory body established to provide political analysis to the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

The UDA is a notorious Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary organisation believed to be responsible for the deaths of over 400 people, the majority of them Catholic.

Frank McCoubrey with DUP leader Arlene Foster (source)

Although the UDA declared ceasefires in 1994 and 2003, subsequent reports by Northern Ireland’s paramilitary watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission, found that the UDA continued to be involved in paramilitary activities, and that its members – including senior members – were involved in drug dealing, extortion, counterfeiting, money laundering and robbery.

Prior to his involvement with the UPRG, McCoubrey was a leading member of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), a fringe political party established by the UDA in 1981.

In 2000 he was elected Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, working under the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Sammy Wilson. Shortly after taking office, he sat on stage with armed paramilitaries at a loyalist rally organised by then-UDA leader Johnny “mad dog” Adair.


Facing calls for his resignation and censure, McCoubrey insisted that he “did not know masked men would appear,” but that if he “had known what was going to happen,” he “wouldn’t have been on that stage.”

The UDP disbanded in 2001, paving the way for the emergence of the UPRG in 2002. McCoubrey headed the UPRG from 2002 to 2012, when he left to join the DUP.

It’s not the only time the DUP has accepted former members of the UPRG or UDA.

Another leading member of the UPRG, Tommy Kirkham, was a DUP councillor from 1989 to 1993, and was later elected Deputy Lord Mayor of Newtownabbey with support from his former DUP colleagues.

Tommy Kirkham (source)

In 2014, the party selected ex-UDA prisoner Sam “Chalky” White as candidate to run in local government elections in Belfast. The former gunman was jailed for seven years in 1980 for robbing an east Belfast taxi office, and served his time on the UDA wing of the notorious Maze prison.

Last week it was announced that the DUP is in talks with the UK’s Conservative Party over plans to form a coalition government.

Doomsday Coalition

Leading DUP politician Sammy Wilson once endorsed a proposal by terrorist paramilitaries to ethnically cleanse Northern Irish Catholics

Speaking for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in 1994, the East Antrim MP said a formal proposal by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) to murder and expel Catholics from Northern Ireland was a “very valuable return to reality,” and that it showed that “some loyalists are looking ahead and contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson (source)

The UDA is a notorious Northern Irish terrorist paramilitary organisation said to be responsible for the deaths of over 400 people, the vast majority of them Catholic.

Wilson’s comments were in response to the UDA’s so-called “Doomsday” plan which called for the establishment of “an ethnic Protestant Homeland” through the expulsion, murder and internment of Northern Ireland’s Catholic population.

It’s not the only time Wilson has publicly endorsed ethnically divisive views.

In 2016, he was filmed appearing to agree with the comment “get the ethnics out” while taking part in a BBC documentary.

Earlier this week it was announced that the DUP is in talks with the UK’s Conservative Party over plans to form a coalition government.

Prevent This

Why did British counter-extremism authorities tell a London primary school that “it would be best to ignore” my freedom of information request? I’ve asked local council

Earlier this year I blogged about Bevington Primary School, whose head teacher sent a letter that appeared to threaten to report a Muslim father to counter-extremism authorities because he asked that his child be removed from Christmas assembly, and because he was allegedly “rude and aggressive” towards staff at the school.


The school refused my request for comment, so in January I filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for correspondence between head teacher Karen Matthews and local counter-extremism authorities.

E-mails obtained via my request show that Matthews contacted Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Prevent education officer Jake Butterworth for advice after a redacted version of the letter was published on the Islam21c website in late December 2016.


Under the UK government’s controversial Prevent strategy, schools are legally required to “protect children from the risk of radicalisation” and “to report suspicious behaviour.”

During their correspondence, Matthews asked Butterworth about how to respond to my request. In his response, Butterworth told Matthews that “ideally it would be best to ignore this request so this unpleasant and incorrect story goes away,” but that he didn’t want the school “in trouble with the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office].”

When asked why he would’ve preferred had Matthews ignored my request, Butterworth said his e-mail to Matthews “clearly states that the FOI request should be responded to,” and that “the information has subsequently been released by the school.

When I again asked Butterworth to clarify what he meant by “ideally it would be best to ignore” my request, I didn’t receive a reply.

I’ve asked Hammersmith and Fulham Council if it subscribes to the view that “ideally it would be best” for schools and other public bodies to ignore FOI requests, but for the legal requirements enforced by the ICO; and if, given the lack of transparency around Prevent, the council believes that Butterworth’s advice about this matter was good advice.

PR Battle of Brittain

PR rep for Arizona ridesharing company Dryvyng flips out when asked if revenge pornster CEO Craig R. Brittain sent “profanity-laced” messages to Facebook users

I recently blogged about Craig R. Brittain, founder and CEO of Scottsdale, AZ ridesharing company Dryvyng.

Craig R. Brittain (source)

Brittain previously ran the revenge porn site, IsAnybodyDown.comThe controversial site encouraged users to submit non-consensual nude photos along with identifying information about the persons in the photos, including their full name, home address, and Facebook screenshots.

In 2013, the site shut down after an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission determined Brittain had hosted fake lawyer advertisements on the site in order to trick victims into paying hundreds of dollars to have their photos removed.

Last week I was contacted by communications expert/social media strategist Brian O’Neal, who sent me a copy of a “profanity-laced” Facebook message he claimed he received from Brittain after O’Neal unfriended Brittain on Facebook.

When I attempted to verify the authenticity of the vituperative message with Brittain’s company via Facebook, here’s what happened:

3.4K people like this
Transportation Service

THU 7:04AM

Dean: Hi, my name’s Dean, I’m a blogger. Recently I got an e-mail from a communications executive named Brian O’Neal who said you sent him a “profanity-laced” Facebook message because he unfollowed your Dryvyng page. For an item on my blog, could you comment on O’Neal’s claim? Cheers – Dean

Dryvyng: Thanks for contacting Dryvyng. Someone will be with you shortly! Thank you!
Dryvyng: No one at Dryvyng has ever spoken to or heard of him. Best regards.

Dean: He sent me a screenshot.
Dean: I’ll send in a minute.

DryvyngScreenshots can easily be faked. People have agendas. We have never heard of or spoken to that person.
Dryvyng: Lots of people recently have fabricated conversations involving supposed members of our company. It is a common trend.


DryvyngLooks like an impostor. Many people impersonate our CEO and send random messages. The only official accounts that represent our brand are this one and Craig’s verified account. Unverified accounts are impostors.

Dean: It appears to have been sent from this group account managed by Craig Brittain:

DryvyngGroups cannot send messages.
DryvyngOnly pages and users can send messages. Any user account/page without a verified tag is not one of ours.

Dean: Apologies, I’m not up to scratch with Facebook’s messaging system, but it’s my understanding that you can reply to direct messages as admin.

DryvyngGroups cannot send or reply to messages.

Dean: Cheers, thanks for answering my questions.

DryvyngThank you.

Dean: Also, mind if I ask who I’m talking to?

DryvyngThis is Doug Childs, PR rep for Dryvyng.

Dean: Rechecked and apparently the message was sent from Craig R Brittain’s account, not the group account. Did you ask Craig if he sent this?

DryvyngAny account that does not have the verification checkmark is not one of our accounts.

Dean: Just to clarify, this account does not belong to Craig R Brittain:

DryvyngIt is not one of our accounts.

Dean: Do you have any idea why people might be creating fake accounts for Craig?

DryvyngThere are many people with political agendas and many fake news websites that want to generate clicks.
DryvyngAs a top 3 company in a competitive field we face a lot of media adversity from the fake news which is why we haven’t received more positive coverage.

Dean: Pivot Foods founder Charles Peralo has also accused Craig of sending abusive messages via his verified account:

Dryvyng: Lots of political opponents make all kinds of false accusations about us based on the actions of political opponents and/or their own motivations for attention.
DryvyngThey know the fake news will print whatever they want people to believe, so they fabricate stories and/or engage with unverified accounts and report it as fact.

Dean: Again, thanks for answering my questions. One last thing: do you have a link to a website or online profile for your PR services?

DryvyngI work specifically for Dryvyng. Dryvyng is my only client.

Dean: Do you have any online presence at all that I can link to?

DryvyngNo, intentionally.

Dean: Okay, thanks.

DryvyngCharles Peralo is a known hoaxer and scammer who is also a legitimate political opponent of our CEO.

Dean: Do you have any evidence for these claims and could you provide links please?

DryvyngCraig Brittain is currently the frontrunner to become the Libertarian Party Presidential nominee in 2020.

Dean: I didn’t know he was part of the libertarian party.

DryvyngThere is no need to prove Peralo is uncredible. He has failed to prove that he is credible.
Dryvyng: No one has ever seen anything Peralo has done or even verified that any of his work exists. We are verified and thus credible via verification.
DryvyngPeralo has 35 twitter followers.
DryvyngNot 35k, not 35m, 35.
DryvyngNot a credible or notable source. A fake.
DryvyngLots of these fake experts hoax in order to get attention.
DryvyngThey make up conversations that never happened, or alter conversations that did to benefit themselves.
DryvyngThat is how fake news works. The mainstream media does it in almost every story and the bloggers copy the formula.
Dryvyng: 99% of all news is fake and can be dismissed as such
DryvyngMade up to keep people believing whatever they want to believe.
DryvyngIt is easy to understand why Mr. Peralo is jealous of Mr. Brittain’s success.

Dean: I’ll certainly ask him about this. Cheers

DryvyngBrittain’s verified Facebook page gets up to 1m impressions and tens of thousands of engagements per day
DryvyngDont ask him, he isnt credible.
DryvyngWhy would you ask a noncredible person what they think? Ask someone with credibility
DryvyngA long list of credible people and celebrities support Brittain. They have affirmed his greatness.
DryvyngDont print fake news about randos that nobody cares about, print real news about all the great people that support us.
DryvyngYou havent even asked about our company at all so it is clear you aim to print fake news.

Dean: His Twitter account only has thirty plus followers but his Being Libertarian account has almost 5k. I simply got a tip from Brian O’Neal and I’m following up.
Dean: Thanks for answering my questions.

DryvyngYou didn’t get a tip from anyone. You have a personal connection to Brian O’Neal and you are acting on his behalf to print fake news.
DryvyngGet a real job.

Dean: That’s incorrect.

DryvyngFalse, it’s correct, fake news.

Dean: Cheers again. Thanks