The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why we can no longer laugh about the Trumps’ media obsession

In this April 30, 2011, file photo Donald Trump, left, and Melania Trump arrive for the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Here’s Julia Ioffe’s version of Donald Trump making America great again: After writing a GQ feature profile of Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, Ioffe is being threatened. “I get calls about the coffins that I ordered and crime scene cleanups that I put in a request for….I got a few of those at midnight and 1 a.m. last night,” says Ioffe in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog.

She is now calling the police.

“For me this is what happens when I wrote a profile of his wife. What happens if there’s something more serious that the press investigates?” asks Ioffe. Her excellent feature story on Melania Trump — headlined “Melania Trump on Her Rise, Her Family Secrets, and Her True Political Views: ‘Nobody Will Ever Know'” — focuses in equal parts on Melania’s relationship with Donald Trump, her upbringing in her native Slovenia, her passions outside of the Trump family and the life and times of her father, Viktor Knavs. In a nearly weeklong trip to Slovenia for classic shoe-leather reporting, Ioffe discovered, among other things:

*That Melania Trump’s father, Viktor Knavs, “aroused suspicion for illicit trade and tax evasion in 1976. (He was charged with a tax offense, though his record was later cleared on account of Slovenia’s statute of limitations, a process the courts described to me as ‘legal rehabilitations.’)”

*That Viktor Knavs was involved in this sordid series of events:

Back when Viktor was a driver, before he married Melania’s mother, he met a young woman in town named Marija Cigelnjak. They dated for a while, and in September 1964, she told Viktor she was pregnant. According to Cigelnjak’s testimony in a lengthy court record, Viktor offered to marry her, but quickly changed his mind, demanding that she have an abortion. This, Viktor said, was because the child was not his. A son was born in May 1965, and three months later, Marija sued Viktor for child support. Viktor continued to deny paternity—going into detail for the court about when he had sex with Marija and the rhythms of her menstrual cycle—prompting the court to order a blood test. Based on its results, the court determined that Viktor was, in fact, the boy’s biological father. Viktor fought the order to pay child support all the way to Slovenia’s highest appellate court. The courts always ruled in Cigelnjak’s favor. (The court record indicates that Viktor filed his appeal late—and lied brazenly and unconvincingly about the nature of the delay.)

Ioffe tracked down this half-brother of Melania, 50-year-old Denis Cigelnjak. The discovery led to this mind-blowing parenthetical: “(When I asked Melania about this over the phone, she denied that it was true. Later, after I’d sent her documents from the Slovenian court, she wrote to me claiming she hadn’t understood what I’d asked, explaining, ‘I’ve known about this for years.’ She added: ‘My father is a private individual. Please respect his privacy.’)”

The story angered Melania Trump, who posted this message on Facebook:

The article published in GQ today is yet another example of the dishonest media and their disingenuous reporting. Julia Ioffe, a journalist who is looking to make a name for herself, clearly had an agenda when going after my family. There are numerous inaccuracies in this article including certain statements about my family and claims on personal matters. My parents are private citizens and should not be subject to Ms. Ioffe’s unfair scrutiny. Furthermore, the statement surrounding the performance of my skincare collection is completely false. The company in which I was involved with did not honor the contract and did not meet their obligations and as such the courts ruled in my favor. I am hopeful that the media will begin to cover me fairly and be respectful of my family’s privacy.

An Erik Wemple Blog rule of thumb: Whenever the subject of your story complains about “numerous inaccuracies” or “inaccuracies too numerous to detail” or “more inaccuracies than we have time to count,” then you’ve done your fact-checking. GQ, Ioffe says, has received no request for correction or retraction from the Trump people. As for Melania Trump’s claim that her parents should be off-limits to Ioffe, that’s laughable in light of her husband’s campaign to become PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. “I explained that you’re in the running to be first lady and this is your background,” says Ioffe. Now to address the complaint about the skin care line: Whereas Melania Trump’s statement says that the company did not honor its contract, Ioffe’s story says that a federal judge ruled in favor of Melania Trump in a lawsuit against the company. “We wrote exactly what she wrote,” says Ioffe.

Hate site The Daily Stormer picked up on the backlash with a story titled, “Empress Melania Attacked by Filthy Russian Kike Julia Ioffe in GQ!”

Hate piled on top of hate:

There’s a lot more of this sickening content out there. Its proliferation just so happens to coincide with the 26th anniversary of Ioffe’s family fleeing anti-Semitism in Russia.

Ioffe, 33, returned to Russia for three years to work as a freelance reporter, mainly contributing to Foreign Policy and the New Yorker. She came aboard the New Republic under the regime of Facebook multimillionaire Chris Hughes and editor Frank Foer, only to leave amid a mass exodus in response to a jittery management upheaval. She’s a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and has written for The Post as well.

Media figures who’ve dared to puncture the Trumps’ insistence on sycophancy have seen an ugly side of Americans. As this blog has noted, Fox News host Megyn Kelly has sustained rounds and rounds and rounds of Internet abuse after Donald Trump lashed out at her for various non-offenses. So we asked Ioffe whether she blames the Trumps for the abuse and threats she’s now receiving. “I don’t think Melania Trump sent these people to my door or asked them to do this,” said Ioffe, using “door” in a figurative sense. However, “[t]he Trumps have a record of kind of whistling their followers into action,” she says. The backlash, says Ioffe, was triggered by the Daily Stormer piece, with its reference to “Empress Melania” and a request: “Please go ahead and send her a tweet and let her know what you think of her dirty kike trickery.” Some of the threatening messages that she’s received, says Ioffe, contain indications that they’re written by folks who support Trump. For example, there’s this tweet and this tweet, which the Washington Post’s decency rules won’t allow us to embed in this post. And note the profile picture here:

A line is being crossed here: Out of the mouths of most politicians, criticism of the media is usually a boring way of deflecting attention from their own shortcomings; it’s an easy, default talking point, poll-tested and sure to whip up a crowd. Out of the mouths of the Trump family, well, it’s still all those things, and then some: It’s dangerous.