Editor’s Note: Stephanie Grisham is first lady Melania Trump’s deputy chief of staff for communications. Formerly a deputy press secretary in the West Wing, Stephanie has been with the President and Mrs. Trump since July 2015, right after he announced his candidacy for president of the United States. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own. View more opinion articles on CNN. This article was originally published on December 15, 2018.
In yet another unnecessary attack on the first lady, CNN contributor Kate Anderson Brower, who purports to be an expert on the customs and norms of first ladies and yet has never met Melania Trump, wrote Thursday that Mrs. Trump “proved that she doesn’t understand what it means to be first lady.”
This condescending opinion, apparently written in response to a single answer Mrs. Trump gave in a Fox News interview Wednesday, was published just hours after the first lady traveled to Children’s National hospital in Washington to read a Christmas story, visit sick children and thank the hardworking hospital staff.
CNN has a dedicated reporter who covers Mrs. Trump. But the media consistently ignores the first lady’s work on behalf of the people of this country, and children in particular, in favor of more trivial matters. And my defense, here, of the first lady will certainly draw criticism and be framed as another assault on the press, but this predictable reaction won’t make my observations any less true.
This holiday season, Mrs. Trump has made every effort to spread joy and good cheer to citizens across the country. In the past week alone, Mrs. Trump participated in a Toys for Tots toy drive, visited service members and families from three different branches of the military, and flew out to an aircraft carrier for one of the visits, in addition to her time with patients at Children’s National hospital.
But rather than focus on these engagements, the good work of the organizations her visits highlighted or the sacrifices of those who serve in the United States military, Brower and other members of the media chose to focus on a soundbite from a 20-minute interview – and a trivial poll released by CNN.
For Brower to claim that Mrs. Trump’s interview was “a lost opportunity to put attention on families of struggling Americans she’s met in her role as first lady” is to willfully ignore everything she has actually done to help and support children and families across the globe as a commitment to service she has consistently demonstrated over the past two years.
When Brower claims Mrs. Trump has no understanding of what it means to be first lady, she intentionally ignores all the effort the first lady has put into fulfilling the traditional responsibilities of the role. For example, she has hosted a successful state dinner and dozens of holiday events at the White House. She has led restoration and preservation efforts in the residence. She has welcomed numerous foreign heads of state to the White House. And, most recently, she has represented the country at a state funeral.
In fact, in the past two years, Mrs. Trump has visited several hospitals, both at home and abroad, and visited with children in immigration facilities in Texas and Arizona. In the wake of the hurricanes that devastated Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Puerto Rico, she traveled to the affected areas to support recovery efforts – and she partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue a public service announcement.
Mrs. Trump comforted shooting victims in Las Vegas, Parkland and Pittsburgh, and thanked law enforcement personnel and first responders for their heroic efforts during times of national tragedy. She has carried her “Be Best” message – a message of hope and empowerment – to children in the United States and around the world. She has emphasized the urgency and severity of our nation’s opioid crisis with visits to Lily’s Place in West Virginia and multiple newborn intensive care units, where she conducted listening sessions before the cameras to shine a light on successful Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome programs across the country.
As part of the broader effort to reduce addiction, she has spoken to thousands of young people about the dangers of drug abuse. She has met with major technology companies to understand the challenges that each faces in the effort to address unsafe or irresponsible behavior online, and has encouraged children to practice digital civility. Each event in her comprehensive “Be Best” initiative is focused on helping children with the many issues they face today. Yet, somehow, she is still characterized as a “reluctant” first lady.
Of course, absurdity abounds in the media’s coverage of our first lady. Reports focus on the trivial and superficial, rather than the deeper issues facing our country that the she has tirelessly worked to address. Last year, when Mrs. Trump traveled to Texas to comfort and support the people affected by hurricanes, the media focused on the pair of heels she wore to board Air Force One.
When she announced “Be Best,” her campaign to help children all over the world, the media criticized her for focusing on the importance of safe and responsible behavior online, presumably because they disagree with her husband’s use of Twitter. In doing so, the media fumbled a critical opportunity to highlight the many inspiring children, families and programs Mrs. Trump mentioned during her speech. News personalities and outlets use the “Be Best” hashtag to taunt her about her husband, instead of focusing on the underlying message of kindness and compassion the campaign is intended to convey.
The list goes on. When Mrs. Trump invited children from a local Boys and Girls club to help plant vegetables in the White House garden, the media chose to focus on the cost of her shirt and the fact that her shoes were clean. Ironically, this same garden had been the focus of significant media attention when some speculated that it would be destroyed simply because it was an initiative led by the first lady’s predecessor, Michelle Obama.
When the first lady traveled to Lynchburg, Virginia, to speak to more than 10,000 college students about the dangers of opioid abuse, the media chose to focus on an off-the-cuff answer that she gave regarding Christmas décor at the White House. The Christmas decorations were mocked last year, and no one is surprised that she is being criticized for them again this year.
When she partnered with the US Agency for International Development and traveled to Africa for a four-country goodwill tour that focused on children’s health and education, conservation efforts and social and cultural issues affecting each region, what did the media focus on? Her clothes.
Whenever Mrs. Trump sits down for interviews, she inevitably gets attacked for her honest answers. I could continue with examples, but will inevitably be attacked for having a “woe-is-me attitude” – it couldn’t possibly be that we are defending ourselves. The simple fact is that Mrs. Trump deserves honest reporting and media coverage that focuses on the substance of her message: the importance of helping children grow up to be happy, healthy and socially responsible adults.
The role of first lady brings with it unique opportunities to help people across the country and around the world. This is not lost on Mrs. Trump. She has and will continue to demonstrate her commitment to helping children and advancing the causes she is passionate about. But there is nothing wrong with staying true to herself along the way. In fact, her strength, individuality and integrity should be celebrated.
The media also has the opportunity and responsibility to report fairly, accurately and without bias. They are, in fact, writing the first draft of our nation’s history. In many ways, they are failing to measure up to this responsibility. This failure must be addressed.
Ms. Brower’s piece criticizing Mrs. Trump has this headline: “Melania shows she’s a Trump through and through.” At least she got that part right. Hopefully, the media will eventually learn to celebrate a woman who, through all the noise, is able to hold steadfast to her mission and stay true to herself. Regardless, Melania Trump is proud to be the first lady of the United States and is proud to represent the American people.