Melania Trump, First Lady of the United States, has recently settled a libel lawsuit against British publication The Daily Mail.
“It’s unprecedented for a president [to file a libel suit], let alone a first lady,” Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and former NBC investigative reporter, told USA Today.
The controversial article in question – “Naked photoshoots, and troubling questions about visas that won’t go away: The VERY racy past of Donald Trump’s Slovenian wife” –was published in August 2016. It has since been retracted with an editor’s note.
The article included claims that Trump worked as an escort in the 1990s and also implied “that Mr and Mrs Trump may have met three years before they actually met, and ‘staged’ their actual meeting as a ‘ruse,’” stated The Daily Mail’s apology letter from April 12.
The website is now the world’s most-read English news website —attracting over 220 million visitors per month. Articles like the one in question, often called “clickbait,” are the basis for much of the Daily Mail’s reporting.
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) April 13, 2017
“MailOnline’s legions of readers are not trawling the site for journalistic nuance. They come for its prurient celebrity gossip, moralizing columns, lurid news and viral memes,” wrote Lizzie Crocker of The Daily Beast.
The case, which was settled in American and British courts, includes not only apology from The Daily Mail to the First Lady, but also damages of $2.9 million from U.S. and British cases, according to the Associated Press.
Since British courts traditionally give an advantage to the plaintiff when it comes to libel cases, many believe Trump’s decision to file there was strategic.
“There was no good reason for her to sue in London other than the fact that it’s quite advantageous for claimants to sue in the U.K.,” said Mark Stephens, a British attorney specializing in media and libel law, to The Daily Beast.
The claims are “100% false and tremendously damaging to her personal and professional reputation,” said a statement by Trump’s lawyer.
The First Lady cited a decrease in possible profits from her high profile status, which has expanded since her husband’s election in Nov. 2016, as the reason for the high settlement rate.
“Plaintiff had the the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson, and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.” – the lawsuit, filed in February.
In contrast, Trump’s lawyer, Charles Harder, stated that she has no intention in profiting from her position.
“The First Lady has no intention of using her position for profit and will not do so,” Harder said in an emailed statement to USA Today. “It is not a possibility. Any statements to the contrary are being misinterpreted.”
Although profiting from her position wouldn’t necessarily be illegal because the role is relatively undefined, it would certainly be out of the ordinary.
While past First Ladies have been very public figures, under the hot lens of scandal, none in recent history have fought back so loudly as Melania Trump and have taken a media outlet to court.