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September 4, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:33am

Journalist to appeal ruling that Telegraph apology over her Melania Trump reporting was not defamatory

By Charlotte Tobitt

A US journalist will appeal a High Court ruling that The Daily Telegraph did not defame her when it issued an apology to US First Lady Melania Trump over an article she had written.

Nina Burleigh wrote a cover story, headlined “The mystery of Melania”, for the Telegraph’s Saturday magazine in January last year.

A week later, the newspaper removed the online article and published an apology to the First Lady saying it had “contained a number of false statements which we accept should not have been published”. The title also agreed to pay Trump substantial damages.

Burleigh argued that the “lurid” apology, which did not name her, made her an “international poster girl for fake news” but was disappointed this week when a High Court judge disagreed.

She has now said she intends to appeal the ruling, which saw Mr Justice Nicklin give his “provisional view” in the Telegraph’s favour.

The article largely contained reporting from Burleigh’s book Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women which Burleigh said was “carefully sourced and fact-checked”.

She added: “In my view, it does not reflect well on the Telegraph that it instantly capitulated to pressure from Mrs Trump without first investing proper effort into fact-checking her claims.”

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Burleigh’s lawyer Dr Jef McAllister, managing partner of solicitors McAllister Olivarius, said he was “disappointed and surprised” by the ruling.

“Ms Burleigh brought this action to clear her name, and the judge has determined that she cannot do so because the Telegraph piece apologising for her work was not technically defamatory of her,” he said.

“We find it hard to understand how the Telegraph could agree to retract a piece written by Ms Burleigh and to pay substantial damages to Mrs Trump as a result without that reflecting badly on Ms Burleigh’s competence as a journalist and author – but that appears to be the court’s reasoning.

“We believe this to be fundamentally wrong and intend to appeal.

“No journalist whose currency is the trust of editors and readers could suffer such a public repudiation of her work without cost to her professional reputation.

“The facts of what happened to Ms Burleigh after the Telegraph’s retraction was published and republished around the world clearly demonstrate that it did in fact hurt her professional reputation.

“We hope that the Court of Appeal will allow Ms Burleigh’s pursuit of vindication to continue.”

Adrienne Page QC, representing Telegraph Media Group, had told the court that publishers should be able to publish an “unexceptional and orthodox” apology without a court ruling it is defamatory of the author of the original article.

According to the judgment, Page said it “should not be necessary for a publisher who has published an apology to be faced with the burden of advancing a substantive defence”.

Mr Justice Nicklin said: “In my judgment, the apology neither alleges nor implies any culpable failure on the part of the claimant [Burleigh]; it does not suggest that there was any want of skill or care on her part.

“The corrections of the ‘false statements’ are not of a gravity that suggests a fundamental failure on the part of the claimant, as author of the original article.

“On the contrary, they would strike the hypothetical reader as being trivial or insubstantial.

“Most importantly, the apology contains no attribution of fault or blame for the errors.”

Picture: Reuters/Carlos Barria 

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