Melania Trump has dropped the wording from her defamation lawsuit against the Daily Mail that referred to the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to profit from her role as the First Lady. But the lawsuit is still going ahead.
The third wife of Donald Trump is seeking damages of $150 million after the British newspaper published unverified rumours that she had worked as an escort in Slovenia. Whereas the original wording focussed on how the article had prevented Melania from capitalising on her new position, the revised suit emphasises her “significant humiliation and emotional distress”.
Firstly, I have no doubt that Melania Trump has suffered humiliation and emotional distress over the past year. She never asked to be a political spouse, and she was unceremoniously thrust into the spotlight by her ratings-chasing egomaniac of a husband. For the most part she tried to keep her head down during the campaign, but every time she managed to disappear from the public eye she was unceremoniously dragged back. We all remember the live interview where Donald Trump announced – seemingly without his wife’s knowledge – that she would be doing more speeches, and her attempt to hide her shocked reaction is cringe-worthy. And as for the ridicule she received for reading a speech plagiarised from Michelle Obama at the Republican National Convention, my first thought was disbelief that no one on the Trump team had checked it for her. It was incompetence and carelessness in the extreme, but not the fault of an expat woman with hesitant English forced into a role she never wanted to play.
And yes, the media said awful things about her – things she didn’t deserve, and that are in no way justified by her marital status.
That said, Melania Trump’s lawsuit against the Daily Mail is wrong. And her obsession with revenge deepens the already substantial concerns about the Trump family’s attitude to the media and to the profit potential of the presidency.
Consider the original text of her suit:
“The economic damage to the plaintiff’s brand, and licensing, marketing and endorsement opportunities caused by the publication of Mail Online’s defamatory article, is multiple millions of dollars… The plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model, brand spokesperson and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multimillion-dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”
That language suggests Melania saw being the First Lady as a business opportunity she was entitled to exploit. If there were no financial perks to being the unelected and unofficial role of First Lady, her complaints would be meaningless. Nor does the new wording help mitigate this implication – the lawsuit may have dropped the most flagrant references to Melania’s brand, but it still mention the harm to her “prospective economic opportunities”.
Melania Trump’s arrogance in assuming she has the right to profit from her newfound status mirrors her husband’s refusal to divest from his businesses or release his financial information, making it impossible to know he is making the best decisions for America rather than his bottom line. His sons, who have taken over his company, are jet-setting off on business trips that cost the US taxpayer up to $100,000 each in hotel bills and security. (In the first month of his presidency, the cost of Trump’s family trips has reached $11.3 million – almost what President Obama’s cost in one year.) The continued scandal over the Trump team’s contact with Russia hints at shady business conflicts and backroom deals, where diplomacy and personal interests blur dangerously.
And then there’s the media. Again, it is wrong to blame Mrs Trump for the transgressions of her husband (I argued the same when Hillary Clinton was demonised for things Bill Clinton did). But the fact remains that Melania won her “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” thanks in part to her husband’s utter contempt for the truth. The “alternative facts” and “fake news” coming out of Trump’s megaphone did not start when he entered the White House. He had been publicly lying and defaming others for the entire race – whether by quoting fake crime statistics, denying things he had previously said, accusing opponents of being paid shills, making groundless claims about rigged elections, or inflating his own business successes. Regardless of whether or not Melania was part of this campaign of deception, she profited from it, as her new address on Pennsylvania Avenue proves. Aside from Donald Trump himself, she is the last person to be complaining of damaged reputations and unfair press coverage.
Does that justify what the Daily Mail wrote? No, and the newspaper has publicly apologised and retracted its comments. But that doesn’t give the First Lady a pass to try to make more money off the same bad behaviour she has condoned and participated in for years. She’s America’s First Lady now – it’s time she started acting like it.
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