First lady Melania Trump has been swept up in the critical coverage of her husband, President Donald Trump, who constantly faces public scrutiny of his presidential fitness. Melania could have a prominent spot in national media conversations, but she usually chooses to avoid that spotlight.
While 56 percent of Americans polled for a Gallup poll in December viewed the president unfavorably, Melania’s favorability rating has risen 17 percentage points since January 2017 to 54 percent.
If Americans generally say they like her, why has she consistently shied away from press coverage? There are many possible answers to that, most of them related to the enormous shadow her husband casts over her.
Trump Marriage Scrutiny
Melania has been caught in media scrutiny of the Trump marriage, especially amidst reports of her husband’s alleged affairs.
Earlier this year, the press reported that the president allegedly had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels after Melania gave birth to Barron, which reportedly resulted in a $130,000 payoff. The New Yorker reported in February that Trump allegedly had an affair with Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal in 2006, which resulted in yet another payoff–this time of $150,000.
CNN’s Kate Bennett examined the Trump marriage in light of his alleged affairs, charges of sexual harassment and Melania’s seeming avoidance of her husband.
“There’s always been a lot of interest in the Trump marriage, but since they took the White House, the scrutiny has been even more intense,” Bennett wrote. “Rumors will likely continue to fly, but no one really knows what goes on between a husband and wife, especially those as independently minded as Donald and Melania Trump.”
Traditionally, the first lady takes up a pet issue. Media coverage of Melania’s issue — cyberbullying — linked her efforts to her husband’s tweeting habits.
HuffPost’s Hayley Miller wrote that Melania has not taken any “significant steps” on the issue while her husband “continues to bully his critics and spread misinformation via Twitter, where he has 48 million followers.”
Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes. The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2018
Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses. Too bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2017
The headline for a Madeleine Aggeler article in The Cut bluntly called out Melania’s efforts to tackle online bullying: “Wife of Cyberbully Calls for ‘Positive Habits on Social Media.’”
“Melania has plowed on without a trace of irony, promoting values of ‘empathy and communication,’ while her husband tweets in bed and posts things like, ‘Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst (and biggest) loser of all time,’” Aggeler wrote.
The first lady’s cyberbullying agenda came under scrutiny again after Donald Trump Jr. liked a tweet suggesting that 17-year-old David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland School shooting, was a “crisis actor.”
Hogg’s sister tweeted at Melania, suggesting that she talk with her stepson.
Hey @FLOTUS you say that your mission as First Lady is to stop cyber bullying, well then, don’t you think it would have been smart to have a convo with your step-son @DonaldJTrumpJr before he liked a post about a false conspiracy theory which in turn put a target on my back
— Lauren Hogg (@lauren_hoggs) February 23, 2018
Staying Out of the Spotlight
Melania isn’t entirely absent from the news cycle, but she is not creating her own media spotlight through magazine interviews or late-night talk show appearances. She stays “conspicuously absent” from magazine covers, reported NBC News’ Claire Atkinson.
“There’s a clear reluctance among editors to put themselves in the cross-hairs of the culture wars. Mostly New York-based editors may fear having to face unhappy readers or advertisers if they go with a choice so closely tied to President Donald Trump,” Atkinson wrote. “And there’s also a sense that editors could be taking a political stand.”
Melania’s lack of media appearances and controlled publicity on her end make it harder for journalists to ask her about her husband or their marriage.
“Mrs. Trump’s absence from high-profile magazine covers has mirrored her broader lack of public appearances or comments, a silence that has taken on major importance after numerous claims of infidelity by the president,” Atkinson wrote.
Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, which endorsed Hillary Clinton, told Business of Fashion that the first lady could appear in the magazine, although nothing is planned at the moment.
— Michael Lyle (@bluecatexpress) February 10, 2017
Business of Fashion reporter Imran Amed noted that, historically, the magazine features first ladies, either on a cover or in a multi-page spread. Clinton was the first first lady to be on the cover, and Michelle Obama has covered the magazine three times, HuffPost’s Chloe Tejada wrote.
Melania graced the cover of Vogue back in 2005 when she married the then-real estate mogul.
When she did appear on the cover of Vanity Fair Mexico in January 2017, her first glossy magazine appearance as first lady, got linked to her husband’s border-wall plans and faced backlash, The Washington Post’s Emily Heil reported.
“And the former fashion model’s let-them-eat-diamonds pose isn’t likely to sit well with Mexican readers — or, perhaps, with Trump voters who like his populist message (though, to be fair, many supporters also appreciate his wealth-flaunting image),” Heil wrote.
Melania Trump is pretending to eat a diamond necklace like it's spaghetti on the cover of Vanity Fair Mexico. pic.twitter.com/PRUfmOQEOg
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 27, 2017
Liberal Bias, Unfair Coverage
A Pew Research Institute study in October found that articles about Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office were four times as likely to carry a negative assessment than a positive one. This perception also extends to Melania coverage.
Kathryn Blackhurst wrote for Lifezette that the liberal mainstream media mocks the first lady, blasting a Los Angeles Times article by columnist Robin Abcarian that speculated about the durability of the Trump’s marriage, which said she “seems like a prop in her husband’s reality show.”
“After eight years of fawning over former first lady Michelle Obama, mainstream media members aren’t big fans of Melania Trump — this is no secret,” Blackhurst wrote. “Mercilessly mocking everything from her accent to her stilettos to her marriage, the liberal media’s snarky criticism of the first lady permeated the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.”
Laura Ingraham, a Fox News host, called the media coverage of Melania versus Michelle Obama a “first lady double standard.”
“She’s gracious, she’s generous and she’s beautiful inside and out. So, if Melania Trump were a liberal, it would be a nonstop love fest from the media. But, since she’s married to President Trump, it’s a very different story,” Ingraham said.
Blackhurst also called out The New Yorker article with the headline “With the White House Christmas, The Image of Melania Trump Transforms From Fairy-Tale Prisoner To Wicked Queen.”
So, how much truth is there to the claim that the media is anti-Melania?
A poll by The Tylt reported that almost 59 percent of its readers agreed that Melania is fair game for the media coverage. The accompanying article to the poll argued both sides to the #LeaveMelaniaAlone and #MelaniaIsFairGame.
“Melania wasn’t elected to be first lady, she just married someone who happened to become president. Is it really fair to hold her to the standards of her husband or other political figures?” the article questioned.
On the flip side, the Tylt article points out that she vocally supported her husband’s birther movement claims that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., and her silence makes her complicit in his actions.
Unless she ever makes herself more readily available, Melania’s true thoughts and feelings about her husband and beyond will remain a mystery.