The Telegraph’s apology

Students of ancient history may recall Nina Burleigh as the vulgar defender of Bill Clinton during the scandals that threatened his second term. In 1998 she expressed her willingness to “thank him for keeping abortion legal” in a manner she must have thought he would appreciate.

I haven’t thought about Burleigh since those days of old, yet a week ago yesterday Britain’s Telegraph published an excerpt adapted from Burleigh’s 2018 book Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women that it published as a magazine cover story under the title “The mystery of Melania.” Yesterday The Telegraph apologized to Mrs. Trump in “Melania Trump–An Apology.” Here it is:

Following last Saturday’s (Jan 19) Telegraph magazine cover story “The mystery of Melania”, we have been asked to make clear that the article contained a number of false statements which we accept should not have been published. Mrs Trump’s father was not a fearsome presence and did not control the family. Mrs Trump did not leave her Design and Architecture course at University relating to the completion of an exam, as alleged in the article, but rather because she wanted to pursue a successful career as a professional model. Mrs Trump was not struggling in her modelling career before she met Mr Trump, and she did not advance in her career due to the assistance of Mr Trump.

We accept that Mrs Trump was a successful professional model in her own right before she met her husband and obtained her own modelling work without his assistance. Mrs Trump met Mr Trump in 1998, not in 1996 as stated in the article. The article also wrongly claimed that Mrs Trump’s mother, father and sister relocated to New York in 2005 to live in buildings owned by Mr Trump. They did not. The claim that Mrs Trump cried on election night is also false.

We apologise unreservedly to The First Lady and her family for any embarrassment caused by our publication of these allegations. As a mark of our regret we have agreed to pay Mrs Trump substantial damages as well as her legal costs.

The Telegraph has removed Burleigh’s cover story from its site. The Telegraph’s apology makes no mention of Burleigh, but the Washington Examiner’s Melissa Quinn notes the provenance of the Telegraph magazine story in Burleigh’s most recent book. Quinn adds: “Calls to Burleigh and publisher Simon & Schuster…were not immediately returned.”

The Telegraph’s apology and related payment of damages reflect the difference between the United States and the United Kingdom when it comes to libel and slander. In the United States the Supreme Court has essentially abrogated the common law of defamation as to public figures and matters of public interest or concern. Although reformed and mitigated by act of Parliament in the Defamation Act 2013 (analysis here), the common law of defamation still holds some power in the United Kingdom even as to public figures.