Not long before the presidential election, Melania Trump gave a rare public address in which she sketched out one of her causes as a potential first lady: “We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other. We must find better ways to honor and support the basic goodness of our children, especially on social media. It will be one of the main focuses of my work if I’m privileged enough to become your first lady,” she said.
Thus launched an untold number of preventing-cyberbullying-starts-at-home comments. In an interview with then-campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, CNN’s Anderson Cooper referenced Donald Trump’s own habits on social media: “You know, the question is doesn’t this start at home,” Cooper said. “Isn’t the problem at her own dinner table?” Indeed it is: Over and over, Donald Trump has beamed nasty tweets — just search “donald trump twitter megyn kelly” — at whomever just so happened to be annoying him at any given moment.
Now the National Enquirer is weighing in with some fresh reporting on the role of Melania Trump, just as the presidential transition is nearing its closing stages: “The ENQUIRER can reveal former model Melania will adopt a two-pronged platform as First Lady, including an unprecedented push to protect freedom of speech and a second campaign to eradicate cyberbullying!” The National Enquirer has close ties to Trump and was among the handful of publications to endorse him. A “source” tells the Enquirer of Melania Trump’s upbringing in Yugoslavia: “Melania grew up under a communist regime where citizens could not speak their minds — or be themselves — without fear or a knock on their door in the middle of the night. It’s what she loves the most about America — and it’s the issue she will make her own.”
Really? Though the Erik Wemple Blog is inclined to simply take the word of the National Enquirer — especially its October 2015 scoop that Hillary Clinton would be dead by April 2016 — we decided to pat down this particular exclusive. Flacks for Team Trump didn’t respond to inquiries, though a knowledgeable source within Trump World didn’t contradict the Enquirer’s revelation. Instead, the source stressed the thematic proximity between cyberbullying and the defense of free speech — namely, that meanness on social media is protected speech, but that doesn’t mean it’s proper and constructive. “Just because you’re legally allowed to say something doesn’t mean you should,” says the source.
There’s no telling how any of this may play out. Melania Trump is staying behind in New York with son Barron as Donald Trump moves south to occupy the White House. Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, appears poised to take on a first-lady-like role in the Trump White House. “Anyone who tells you, with perfect confidence, what a Trump administration will do is either bluffing or a fool,” writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.
In any case, a move to defend freedom of speech would mark a shift for Melania Trump, who has recently shown an appreciation for exploiting its limitations. With the assistance of attorney Charles Harder, Melania Trump has sued the Daily Mail and a septuagenarian blogger in Maryland for reporting about Melania Trump’s past. In a retraction, the Daily Mail wrote that it didn’t “intend to state or suggest that Mrs. Trump ever worked as an ‘escort’ or in the ‘sex business.'”
And the notion of Melania Trump as First Amendment warrior runs into further static in light of her reaction to a profile in GQ by reporter Julia Ioffe. Via traditional shoe-leather reporting, Ioffe discovered a great deal about Melania Trump’s Slovenian past — a history that the subject didn’t want to see in daylight. So Melania Trump scolded over social media:
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.
Those are the words of someone who needs to post a retraction of her own before championing the First Amendment. And on this front, she has a soulmate in her husband, who has fantasized about an initiative to “open up” libel laws so that the Trumps of the world could more easily sue news outlets; blacklisted media outlets on the campaign trail; stood by as a campaign aide man-handled reporters; and threatened to sue the New York Times for quite clearly accurate reporting.
So when it comes to freedom of speech, perhaps Melania Trump and her husband should exercise their right to keep their mouths shut.