The press has a Melania Trump problem

Stop normalizing her

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Did you hear First Lady Melania Trump recently "spearheaded" the renovation of a small, iconic plot of land, the Rose Garden at the White House? The outdoor redo came during a deadly pandemic, and an unprecedented economic collapse in America, but the landscaping project was treated as very big news. CNN published no less than four shrubbery updates this summer.

• "Melania Trump announces Rose Garden renovation"

• "Your guide to Melania Trump's Rose Garden renovations"

• "Newly renovated White House Rose Garden to be unveiled next week"

• "First lady Melania Trump unveils White House Rose Garden restorations ahead of RNC"

The flattering Rose Garden attention came as Trump spoke at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night, a move that generated more feel-good press. The Washington Post suggested she could be Donald Trump's "secret weapon" on the campaign trail this year, and that a speech from the singularly uninspiring Melania Trump could represent a high-point of the convention.

A proud Birther who for half a year refused to move into the White House until she negotiated a more lucrative prenuptial agreement with her husband, Trump, who oversees an anti-cyber bullying public awareness campaign, has stood by silently while Donald Trump has relentlessly mocked and bullied people online, including children. Yet she's mostly been greeted with pleasing press coverage — or at the very least, Beltway press coverage that asks very few pointed question of a woman who refuses to turn away from her husband's misogyny, and supports his anti-democratic and corrupt administration.

Kate Bennett, who covers Trump for CNN, finds the First Lady to be “free,” and according to a Post review of Bennett’s book about Trump, “wickedly intelligent,” “an independent thinker,” “pragmatic, confident, warmer than she often appears and excellent with children.”

Given ample opportunity to condemn her husband’s brazen and dangerous behavior, such as claiming this November's election will be "rigged," Trump has taken a vow of silence, thereby endorsing the president's authoritarian ways. She's a stout enabler of the politics of hate, and she gets a pass from the press.

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Unlike Hillary Clinton, whose marriage was put under a high-powered media microscope during the 1990's impeachment controversy, when Beltway pundits published mountains of columns demanding to know why she stayed with her unfaithful husband, Trump is rarely second-guessed in the press.

Recall that relentless State of the Clinton Marriage news coverage dominated the media landscape and hounded the Clinton's for years while they occupied the White House. That intrusive coverage continued after the Clinton's left the White House — in 2006 the New York Times interviewed more than 50 people for an 1,800-word news article about “the state of their marriage.”

By contrast, Melania Trump's personal life has been effectively sealed off from media scrutiny. This, despite the fact that the Trump's sleep in separate bedrooms, and Donald Trump has been chronically unfaithful to his wife, often paying for sex while he was married. State of the Trump Marriage news coverage? It doesn't exist, as the topic is politely ignored.

The Beltway press signaled very early on that it was going to treat Melania with kid gloves. After Donald Trump won the election, Melania made the stunning announcement that she wasn't going to move into the White House with her husband, insisting the move was to benefit her son. "Melania wants to stay in New York while her son goes to school," a friend told People. It was later reported that Melania used Donald's election win as "leverage" to get more money out of him. 

Can you even imagine the media hailstorm that would have erupted for weeks and months if Michelle Obama had announced in late 2008 that she refused to move into the White House when Barack Obama was inaugurated? And then we found out the delay tactic was because Obama wanted to squeeze more money from her husband? Until Melania, a First Lady refusing to live at the White House was, of course, inconceivable. But the press went out of its way to normalize her no-show appearance.

"Reluctant First Lady? Melania Trump Wouldn’t Be the First to Claim That Title," read a New York Times headline from February, 2017. "That Mrs. Trump may have a somewhat skeptical view of life in Washington doesn’t come as a total surprise to professors, writers and museum curators who study first ladies, with some saying she is in the company of several predecessors who took time to find their footing," the Times reported, putting the story in a favorable light. 

But Trump wasn't "reluctant" and "skeptical" about becoming First Lady. She was effectively refusing to be become First Lady. That's unheard of in U.S. history, so why did the Times pretend that Trump's behavior was in line with former First Ladies, such as Michelle Obama, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Eleanor Roosevelt? Answer: It was an obvious attempt to normalize Trump from the outset.

Back in May, the Post ran another glowing profile of the First Lady, insisting she had "found her voice" during the Covid-19 pandemic because she had posted comments on social media urging people to wear masks. In other words, she had done the absolutely bare minimum at a time of national crisis — a crisis her husband made worse everyday. But that minimal effort was enough for the Post to sing her praise.

Fast forward three months, and Trump last week hosted a highly publicized event at the White House where she refused to wear a mask, as did most of the people in attendance, thereby sending a dangerous message that the pandemic threat has passed.

Melania Trump deserves just as much media scrutiny as her recent predecessors, if not more given Donald Trump’s radical behavior. Not a Beltway press corps that normalizes her tenure.

UPDATED: The coverage of Trump’s speech last night has been generally, and predictably, fawning. From the Deputy Political Director at ABC News:

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GOOD STUFF:

👍🏻 Readers of PRESS RUN know I've been hammering the Trump "lie" issue hard, and for a long time. To me, it's the media's defining failure in the Trump era. So it’s always encouraging when news outlets stop tap dancing around the obvious.

Slate did just that with its early review of the RNC: "The Republican Convention Follows Trump’s Coronavirus Strategy: Lie About Everything":

At its convention, the GOP presented an almost entirely fake history of President Donald Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus. Like authoritarian parties in other countries, the Republicans substituted propaganda for reality. Some networks cut away from the convention to fact-check these statements, but it was impossible to keep up in real time.

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🎧 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

HAIM, "Don't Wanna"

I'm dipping back into the new HAIM album, which I previously highlighted this summer. I just love this L.A.-based sister band. I love their sound, their style, and their swagger.