It's another stranger-than-fiction moment offered up by this year's bizarre presidential campaign: Many people believe that Meredith McIver, the writer who took responsibility for Melania Trump's plagiarized speech Monday night, does not actually exist. In fact, some social media commenters are gleefully echoing the anti-Obama "birther" movement by demanding to see McIver's long-form birth certificate.
Why doubt her reality? There are actually some pretty compelling reasons:
1. She had no social media accounts until two days ago.
It's tough to imagine a professional speaker and writer (or a professional dancer, which she was earlier in her career) with no social media presence whatsoever, but that appears to be the case with McIver. She has no personal Facebook account at all and her fan page on Facebook, as well as her Twitter account, were only set up in the last day or two.
2. She's not listed on the Trump campaign payroll.
Campaigns must submit a list of their employees to the Federal Elections Commission and McIver isn't on the Trump campaign's list. However, that might make sense since she is an employee of the Trump organization as opposed to the campaign.
3. There's been a whole lotta photo editing.
Most damning of all, one of only two available images of McIver as an adult seems to have been inserted into at least two photos with Donald Trump. Compare the image here with the images here and here and it's quite obvious that a single image of McIver (if that's who she is) from the first photo has been superimposed on the other two. In the third image, with Donald and Melania Trump, only the top half of McIver's body was used, with the bottom half belonging to some unknown woman with a penchant for very revealing slitted skirts.
4. Donald Trump has a history of inventing fake employees.
One of the few places McIver's name came up before yesterday was as co-author on Donald Trump's books. During a lawsuit against a New York Times reporter, Trump blamed McIver for what he claimed were factual errors in the text. In most cases, that might seem like compelling evidence that she does exist. Unfortunately, Trump is known to have invented nonexistent employees in the past. He used to refer people to his PR representatives John Barron or John Miller, neither of whom existed except as aliases for Trump himself. So it does seem conceivable that he would have invented McIver back then as someone to blame for any mistakes in his books, and then trotted her out again as a scapegoat for Melania's plagiarized speech.
5. Her account of the plagiarism is implausible.
Let me say for the record that I believe McIver does exist. Snopes hunted out some references to her that predate July 2016, as well as her voter registration--as a Democrat. Buzzfeed found even more information to substantiate her existence. And while her lack of social media accounts is certainly odd...well some people don't have them.
But I don't for a moment believe her version of how the plagiarism happened. Supposedly, Melania Trump read McIver some passages from Michelle Obama's speech as an example and McIver, knowing full well where those passages came from, somehow accidentally wrote them into her own draft. It seems much more believable that Melania Trump wrote those passages in herself, assuming no one would remember Michelle Obama's speech after eight years. And then, when it all hit the fan, the Trumps asked an employee with a low public profile and no political ambitions to take the blame, perhaps with a reward of some kind for doing so.
6. We live in an age of skepticism.
That's what's so fascinating about this whole event. These days it seems no one believes anything they don't want to believe. The "birthers" don't believe Barack Obama was born in the United States and there's not enough proof in the world to convince them otherwise. Legions of die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters believe that Sanders really won the nomination but was deprived of his rightful victory by voter fraud, and nothing will convince them that Hillary Clinton really did win. And then there are the hundreds of thousands or maybe millions who don't believe in global warming, despite a mass of scientific evidence that it is real--not to mention the rapidly changing weather patterns we all can see for ourselves.
There's been a lot of lamenting about the deteriorating level of discourse in today's world, especially when it comes to politics. But it shouldn't surprise anyone that we can't find common ground when each of us is working from his or her own preferred set of facts. Before we can address any of today's most daunting problems, we need to agree on some accepted version of the truth.
Right now, we're not even close.