Melania Trump has filed suit against The Daily Mail and a Maryland blogger named Webster G. Tarpley over a story that claimed she was an escort in the 1990s. The tabloid published the story on August 20, and repeated allegations from a Slovenian magazine, Suzy, which claimed that the modeling agency Trump worked for was also a high-end escort service.
Politico reported on August 22 that Trump was considering legal action against the Mail and several other outlets that repeated the claims. She’s represented by Charles Harder, the attorney who also represented Hulk Hogan in his recent, successful bid to bankrupt Jezebel’s parent company Gawker Media. (The company was recently sold at auction to Univision.)
Harder told Politico in an email that the escort claims were false and defamatory:
“All such statements are 100% false, highly damaging to her reputation, and personally hurtful. She understands that news media have certain leeway in a presidential campaign, but outright lying about her in this way exceeds all bounds of appropriate news reporting and human decency.”
Three websites that picked up the claims—Tarpley’s, Bipartisan Report and Inquistr—have published apologetic retractions to Trump, which she retweeted. All three retractions carefully make it clear that they were not the source of the allegations, while still apologizing wholeheartedly for repeating them. From Inquistr:
A story published within the last week at the Inquisitr had attributed to unfounded rumors and innuendo regarding model Melania Trump, wife of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, and her life prior to her marriage.
While Inquisitr writers did not generate said rumors, which alleged Melania Trump previously earned money as an escort, the writer in question was not diligent in fact-checking or maintaining a healthy distance between innuendo and fact.
As such, the Inquisitr’s management and editorial staff would like to officially retract this story in full and apologize to Mrs. Trump for any duress she may have endured as a result of these reports.
Yesterday, Aug. 21, 2016, we published a story sourced from multiple outlets about Melania Trump’s past employment. After publishing, it was brought to our attention that many of the statements made by sources were not fully confirmed by audio or video tape and are therefore heresay. Aside from the facts not being 100 percent accurate, we deeply regret reporting on a story of such a “low brow” nature. Melania Trump is a private citizen and deserves the privacy and respect that any one of us would want and expect. We sincerely apologize to her for stooping to such a level and will not do so again in the future. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in “the news” and not stop to think about the fact there is a human being behind each story. Melania is human and deserves the respect of one.
Tarpley, too, ran a very long formal retraction on his website, Tarpley.net:
The Morning Briefing published on tarpley.net on August 2, 2016 referenced unfounded rumors and innuendo regarding Melania Trump, wife of Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, and her life prior to her marriage. The August 2, 2016 morning briefing asserted that it was widely known that Melania Trump previously worked as an escort and that Mrs. Trump was in fear of revelations that she used to work as an escort. The briefing also stated that multiple unnamed sources stated that Mrs. Trump was in a state of apoplectic tantrum, was suffering from a full-blown nervous breakdown, that both Melania Trump and Donald J. Trump feared the revelations coming to light, and that Mrs. Trump’s condition was negatively affecting the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
While the tarpley.net editors, writers and contributors did not generate said rumors, the briefing in question was not diligent in fact-checking or maintaining a healthy distance between innuendo and fact.
As such, Webster G. Tarpley, as editor of the content that appears on tarpley.net, hereby officially retracts the August 2, 2016 morning briefing in full and apologizes to Mrs. Trump for any duress and harm she may have endured as a result of the contents of the August 2, 2016 morning briefing.
That apparently didn’t do the trick: the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs reports Melania Trump sent out a press release announcing she’d officially filed suit in Maryland:
While the statement claimed that the damages were estimated at $150 million, the complaint itself wasn’t immediately available and it’s unclear how much Trump is actually suing for.
Because this world is very small, we should note that the Daily Mail itself brought a defamation lawsuit against Gawker Media. That suit is ongoing.
This is the first time Melania Trump has pursued legal action against a media outlet during the campaign. It’s a sharp contrast to how the Trump camp responded when nude photos of her were published in the New York Post. Donald Trump issued a statement then saying that while he didn’t know Melania at the time they were shot, “pictures like this are very fashionable and common” in Europe.
But escort claims seem to be a step too far for Donald Trump to even tweet angrily about. He hasn’t mentioned the story publicly at all, and Melania hasn’t commented further than her statement beyond tweeting links to all three retractions.
Politico reported previously that other news outlets in the United Kingdom “were warned about publishing” the escort allegations, presumably by Harder. Both Bipartisan Report and Inquistr have, of course, deleted their stories; the Daily Mail now has too, though theirs remained up for a little longer, with a breathless headline touting Melania’s “VERY racy past.”