The U.K. Telegraph is generally a reliable source, at least when compared to some of the journalistic rot in Albion. However, even the esteemed Telegraph is not immune to the lure of the anti-Trump hit-piece — in this case, targeting first lady Melania Trump.
Unfortunately, when you don’t have the facts right and you’re publishing in a country where libel laws are a lot less restrictive than the United States, that’s a very dangerous proposition. It’s a proposition that cost the Telegraph a “substantial” bit of money and a lot of face.
The piece was an excerpt of a book by U.S. journalist Nina Burleigh. While many may remember Burleigh for her, ahem, proposition to Bill Clinton for the fact she thought he kept abortion legal (I won’t repeat it here; Google it at your own risk), she’s now made a kind of cottage industry out of chronicling the purported dark side of the women in Trump’s orbit.
The title of the book is “Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women” — which gives some idea of how objective it’s content is.
The excerpt, according to the U.K. Guardian, was intended to show what life was really like for the “most private and enigmatic” first lady through interviews with a retinue of “White House insiders, Slovenian school friends and photographers.”
Somehow, this arrangement went terribly wrong and the piece was pulled with a decided quickness after it was published last Saturday.
After legal action, the paper has paid “substantial damages” to the first lady and issued an apology, admitting that the article included false statements.
It’s more entertaining to read the apology than to catalogue the mistakes Burleigh made, as the Telegraph’s statement on the matter reads almost like a parody worthy of Wodehouse. (Unfortunately for the Telegraph, however, the mistakes were actually very real.)
“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,” the Telegraph’s statement, made Saturday, reads.
“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,” it continues.
“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,” the apology concludes. “As a mark of our regret we have agreed to pay Mrs Trump substantial damages as well as her legal costs.”
According to the Washington Examiner, calls to Burleigh or her publisher weren’t immediately returned.
Stephanie Grisham, communications director for the first lady, criticized the paper for what she called “lies & false assertions in a race for ratings or to sell tabloid headlines.”
While nothing will probably top Burleigh’s insane, vulgar “offer” to Bill Clinton because of the fact the 42nd president apparently allowed her and other Americans to continue killing the unborn, I think that a retracted article with that many mistakes — combined with “substantial damages” paid to Melania Trump — may certainly come in second when evaluating her career.
Rest assured, there are likely to be plenty more accusations of this sort about Melania’s domineering father or modeling career from Burleigh and her colleagues, cultivated, I’m sure, from plenty of “White House insiders, Slovenian school friends and photographers.”
Given the tenor and the quickness of the Telegraph’s apology, however, we can pretty well speculate exactly how true those claims are.
Newspapers don’t pay out settlements or issue statements this obsequious if what they published was even remotely defensible, even in a country where libel laws are significantly looser than in the United States.
This was, as the president is fond of saying, “very fake news.”