In early 2006, Natasha Stoynoff, a writer for People magazine, co-wrote a flowery account of Donald Trump’s marriage to his third wife, Melania. “There’s my baby!” the story quotes Trump as saying while he rushes toward his then-pregnant wife. “Then he corrects himself. ‘I mean . . . there are my babies!’”
The story doesn’t mention what Stoynoff alleged Wednesday night in a first-person account posted by the magazine: That in the course of interviewing Trump for the story at his Florida estate, he pinned her up against a wall and forced himself on her. “We walked into [one] room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us,” she wrote. “I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.”
The decade-long lag in reporting the alleged incident gave Trump an opening on Thursday to impeach Stoynoff’s story. “Why didn’t the writer of the twelve year old [sic] article in People Magazine mention the “incident” in her story,” he tweeted. “Because it did not happen!”
Stoynoff and People say that it did, and that the long delay in reporting it reflected the confusion, embarrassment and conflicting emotions that assault victims often experience.
“It was disorienting for her,” said J.D. Heyman, People’s deputy editor, in an interview Thursday. “She felt a great deal of worry and distress about it. Then she felt angry.”
The anger, he said, was triggered by Trump’s denial during the presidential debate Sunday that he had ever assaulted a woman. At least four women, including Stoynoff, have come forward since then with stories about Trump groping or kissing them against their will.
Stoynoff, who wasn’t available for comment, wrote in her article Wednesday that she told close friends about her run-in with Trump. But she didn’t confide in her editors at the time, Heyman said: “No one in any position to publish the article had any idea about it.”
Instead, Stoynoff went ahead and contributed to a story portraying Trump and his wife as a happy expectant couple on their first wedding anniversary. People headlined her article, “Happy Anniversary,” with a smaller headline reading: “With their baby due in March, the Trumps recount their first year of marital bliss and tell us what’s ahead.” It carried the bylines of Mike Lipton and “Natasha Stoynoff in Mar-a-Lago.”
“I think hindsight is 20-20,” Heyman said of Stoynoff’s decision not to inform her editors. “I think she felt conflicted at the time. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to make a fuss, and she was frightened. . . . She was a reporter trying to do her job.”
Heyman said Stoynoff told editors about her experience with Trump only after the “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump emerged last week. They encouraged her to write about what happened, he said, but left the decision up to her.
After Sunday’s debate, she was ready, he said.
Trump on Thursday pushed back against the allegations, calling them politically motivated “smears” during a rally in Florida. He specifically denied the People story and instructed his supporters to “look at her” — meaning Stoynoff — and decide whether they found her account credible.
“We were totally unaware of the New York Times story,” Heyman said. “We didn’t know of any other reported accounts of this behavior. We had no knowledge or coordination with any news organization, and there’s no political agenda. This was a story that we felt an obligation to tell.”
In a statement, People’s editor in chief, Jess Cagle, wrote, “We are grateful to Natasha Stoynoff for telling her story. Ms. Stoynoff is a remarkable, ethical, honest and patriotic woman, and she has shared her story of being physically attacked by Donald Trump in 2005 because she felt it was her duty to make the public aware. To assign any other motive is a disgusting, pathetic attempt to victimize her again.”