A British newspaper apologized to first lady Melania Trump and agreed to pay “substantial damages” after publishing a story that it says made false statements about her family and modeling career.
In a three-paragraph apology Saturday, the Telegraph retracted several claims that were printed last week in the paper’s magazine publication. “The mystery of Melania,” which is no longer online, reported that Trump was struggling in her modeling career before she met her future husband, Donald Trump, and that her career advanced only after his assistance. That was false, the paper said.
“We accept that Mrs. Trump was a successful professional model in her own right before she met her husband and obtained her own modeling work without his assistance,” the paper said, adding later: “We apologise unreservedly to The First Lady and her family for any embarrassment caused by our publication of these allegations.”
The Telegraph’s magazine cover story, which was published on Jan. 19, was an excerpt from the book “The Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women” by journalist Nina Burleigh. It was published in October.
Burleigh said she stands by her reporting, and there are no inaccuracies in her book.
“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 said she told Trump’s lawyers that she repeatedly requested interviews with the first lady but to no avail.
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.
Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said Saturday that the first lady “often refers to opportunists out to advance themselves” by destroying her name and image. She said media outlets have lied and made false assertions “in a race for ratings or to sell tabloid headlines.”
President Trump also weighed in on Sunday, responding to a tweet by Fox News’s Brit Hume about the Telegraph story.
According to the Telegraph’s apology, the story reported that Melania Trump’s father, Viktor Knavs, was a “fearsome presence” who controlled the family, and that the first lady left a university in Slovenia, where she was studying design and architecture, because of an exam. The paper said that those assertions were false, and that Trump left to pursue a modeling career.
In response, Burleigh said her source described Knavs as a “big boss” and implied his wife and children feared him. She said a confidential source had talked to her about Trump not finishing her studies in Slovenia.
She also said that other media outlets have reported on Trump’s struggles to succeed in New York as a fashion model. She cited a 2016 GQ article that included an interview with Trump’s former roommate, a photographer, who said the first lady had “aired frustration over the work issue.”
The Post reported last year that Trump was a “working model” who was initially not widely known in the highly competitive New York fashion world and that her association with Donald Trump, whom she began dating in 1998, raised her profile.
The Telegraph’s apology further said that Melania and Donald Trump met in New York in 1998, not in 1996, as the story stated. The article also stated that Melania Trump’s father and sister relocated to New York in 2005 to live in buildings the president owned and that the first lady cried on the night of the 2016 presidential election. Those statements, too, were false, the Telegraph said.
Burleigh said that the first lady’s family lived at least part-time at Trump properties. That Trump cried on election night has also already been reported elsewhere, Burleigh said, citing Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” (Other journalists have found Wolff’s book problematic.)
This is not the first time Trump has received an apology and damages from publications over stories about her career.
In April 2017, the British tabloid the Daily Mail apologized for an article that alleged “she provided services beyond simply modeling,” according to a statement released at that time. Melania Trump filed and later settled defamation lawsuits, with the Daily Mail agreeing to pay an unspecified amount of damages.
The first lady also sued a Maryland blogger who reported about unfounded rumors that she once worked as a high-end escort. Trump settled in February 2017, and the blogger, Webster Tarpley, agreed to apologize and pay her a “substantial sum.”
Dan Morse, Mary Jordan, Beth Reinhard and Emma Brown contributed to this report.
This post has been updated.