US journalist loses in libel action against Telegraph over Melania Trump apology

Update: Journalist Nina Burleigh plans to appeal the judge’s ruling.

An American author and journalist has lost the first stage of a libel action against The Daily Telegraph over an apology the newspaper issued to US First Lady Melania Trump.

Nina Burleigh, described in court documents as an “award-winning author and journalist”, wrote an article called “The Mystery Of Melania”, which was published in the Telegraph’s Saturday magazine in January 2019.

The newspaper ran an apology the following week, stating the article “contained a number of false statements which we accept should not have been published”.

The apology also said the newspaper had agreed to pay “substantial damages” to Mrs Trump (pictured), President Donald Trump’s wife, as well as her legal costs.

Burleigh subsequently launched legal action against the newspaper’s publisher, Telegraph Media Group.

She alleged that the apology – which did not identify her as the author of the original article – was defamatory of her and would have been understood by a large number of readers to refer to her.

Burleigh claimed the apology made her the “international poster girl for ‘fake news’”.

However, in a ruling at the High Court in London on Wednesday, Mr Justice Nicklin ruled against Burleigh.

He 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.”

The judge said he would give the parties an opportunity to address him on the consequences of his ruling, but that his “provisional view” is that TMG is entitled to judgment in its favour on Burleigh’s claim.

The original article ran as the cover story of the Telegraph’s magazine on 19 January 2019.

In the apology, run online and in the print edition of The Daily Telegraph on 26 January 2019, the newspaper made eight corrections to the article.

These included that Mrs Trump was not struggling in her modelling career before she met her husband, that she did not advance in her career due to her husband’s assistance, and that she met her husband in 1998 – not 1996 as stated in the article.

The apology also stated that a claim Mrs Trump cried on election night was false.

Picture: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst 

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