“Unprecedented” is an overworked and worn out word in Trumpworld. Most recently, it has been used to describe Melania Trump’s unique relationship with the press. It’s a rule of thumb that First Ladies don’t go suing publications that have portrayed them in less than a flattering light, but Melania just this week obtained a public apology and damages settlement from yet a third media outlet she has sued in as many years. British publication, the Telegraph, printed the following apology for a recent story on Trump, stating that they would pay her “substantial damages” as well. The Telegraph:
Following last Saturday’s (Jan 19) Telegraph magazine cover story “The mystery of Melania”, we have been asked to make clear that the article contained a number of false statements which we accept should not have been published. Mrs Trump’s father was not a fearsome presence and did not control the family. Mrs Trump did not leave her Design and Architecture course at University relating to the completion of an exam, as alleged in the article, but rather because she wanted to pursue a successful career as a professional model. Mrs Trump was not struggling in her modelling career before she met Mr Trump, and she did not advance in her career due to the assistance of Mr Trump.
We accept that Mrs Trump was a successful professional model in her own right before she met her husband and obtained her own modelling work without his assistance. Mrs Trump met Mr Trump in 1998, not in 1996 as stated in the article. The article also wrongly claimed that Mrs Trump’s mother, father and sister relocated to New York in 2005 to live in buildings owned by Mr Trump. They did not. The claim that Mrs Trump cried on election night is also false.
We apologise unreservedly to The First Lady and her family for any embarrassment caused by our publication of these allegations. As a mark of our regret we have agreed to pay Mrs Trump substantial damages as well as her legal costs.
The story at issue was based on excerpts from the book, “Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women,” by Nina Burleigh and published by Simon & Schuster. Now here’s what’s interesting: Neither Burleigh nor Simon & Schuster were sued. Plus, Burleigh wrote the Telegraph, disagreeing with their retraction, stating that her book, and consequent article thereon, were “well-sourced,” “fact checked,” and “benign.” Washington Post:
“The book was published in October and has been widely excerpted and reported on in American publications . . . The book was lawyered for months in advance of publication,” Burleigh said. “Furthermore, the points they objected to include facts that have been previously reported by other writers.”
She criticized the Telegraph for apologizing for “accurate reporting” and called the apology “regrettable.” A Telegraph editor told her that the paper does not have the resources to back-check her reporting in Slovenia, the first lady’s home country, she said.
“They defamed me by calling my work ‘false,’” Burleigh told The Washington Post Monday, adding that the Telegraph failed to also publish her responses to Trump’s lawyers who had challenged the story.
Burleigh also suggested that the retraction was over fears of California lawyer Charles Harder, who represented the first lady in a defamation lawsuit against the Daily Mail, another British publication, and is representing the president in lawsuits against adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. Harder is best known for helping a Silicon Valley billionaire successfully sue the gossip website Gawker, leading to its demise.
It’s not going out too far on a limb to infer on these facts that the Telegraph decided to hedge its bets and play it safe, not willing to risk protracted and costly litigation. They can hardly be blamed for not wanting to go the way of the Gawker.
Libel laws are more condusive to the litigant in Great Britain, than they are in the United States. However, even in this country there is an attitude of increased caution. The present White House has made no bones about where it stands in relation to the “fake news” “enemy of the people” press. Look for journalists to watch their backs like never before in the days ahead, because they have no choice.