Is Melania Trump a Public Figure?

Melania Trump’s lawyer threatened to sue three publications regarding their allegations that the former model is also a former escort. LiberalAmerica issued a prominent apology for their article. If you haven’t seen anything about this story, their apology is an excellent recap of the entire “scandal,” which, like many parts of the Trump lifestyle, would have died a natural death if they hadn’t turned it into a scandal.

“I’m also sorry beyond words that Mrs. Trump decided to take the stage at the GOP convention and give a speech … said that only her husband could effectively lead and save the United States. That only her husband could make America great again. In my book, that makes her a public figure, meaning that I can say any damn thing I want about her and she has no recourse whatsoever. Libel is almost impossible to prove, but she and her husband have unlimited financial resources and I don’t, so I have no choice but to write this mea culpa.”  [Emphasis mine.]

The author’s words made me curious. Is Melania Trump a public figure?

My research didn’t definitively answer that question. It did point to several legal rulings, indicating lawsuits are often required to figure it out. Laura Bush is a public figure because she is married to someone with a great deal of power and influence. Melania Trump is also married to someone who has a great deal of power and influence and is publicly encouraging Americans to give him, and, by extension, herself, even more. Does that make her a public figure?

According to Melania Trump’s lawyer, yes. 

Actual malice can be proven by nature of the fact that my client has publicly denied the foregoing statements, and her denial has been published in other publications. In addition, this letter constitutes direct notice of the false and defamatory nature of the foregoing statements, and actual malice can easily be proven, particularly for any continued publication.                                        [Emphasis mine.]

Actual malice is only alleged when the person bringing the lawsuit (or threatening it, in this case) is a public figure. And actual malice is very difficult to prove.

[C]ourts have defined “actual malice” in the defamation context as publishing a statement while either

  • knowing that it is false; or
  • acting with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity.

It is generally not sufficient, however, for a plaintiff to merely show that the defendant didn’t like her, failed to contact her for comment, knew she had denied the information, relied on a single biased source, or failed to correct the statement after publication.

Not surprisingly, this is a very difficult standard for a plaintiff to establish. Indeed, in only a handful of cases over the last decades have plaintiffs been successful in establishing the requisite actual malice to prove defamation.

Trump might want to rethink his “all publicity is good publicity” idea, at least where his wife is concerned. (Note: Words with four syllables–Plagiarism, Immigration, Prostitution–are not automatically better than words with four letter. Bigger, yes. Better, no.)

 

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2 thoughts on “Is Melania Trump a Public Figure?

  1. Seems pretty obvious to me that anyone who gets to give a highly-promoted speech at a national political convention, televised to million of viewers, is a public figure.

    • It seems that way to me, too, but I thought Liberal America’s question was reasonable. (Ditto for their apology–Melania Trump is as vicious as her husband where the media is concerned.)

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