Where’s the Outrage?

03 Aug 2016

On Sunday, July 31, the New York Post published nude photographs of Donald Trump’s wife Melania, a former model, from a defunct French men’s magazine. This apparently warranted the front page, as well as the classy headline “The Ogle Office.”

In a perfect world, this would not be done. In a semi-perfect world, the backlash would have been loud and swift, prompting an immediate apology. In our world, however, the Post doubled-down on this strategy, as the very next day’s edition featured more nude photos of Melania, this time with another female model, and the even classier headline “Menage a Trump.”

I am disheartened by the lack of outrage over this.

For the record, I don’t believe this to be an example of dirty politics, intended to damage Trump’s campaign. After all, the Post endorsed Trump for president way back in April. I believe the Post’s intention is to sell newspapers, nothing more. That doesn’t make it any less reprehensible.

This is not news. We all know Melania was a model and that models sometimes pose in various states of undress. The fact that Melania willingly posed for these photos is irrelevant. They were published two decades ago – literally a lifetime, as she was then 25. I assure you that many photos taken by twenty-somethings, which are proudly posted on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat today, will be concealed or deleted in two decades when their subjects are established doctors, lawyers, senators and yes, even homemakers. To dredge them up and publish them would be a grievous violation of privacy. It’s not news now and it won’t be news in 20 years that college students get drunk and act stupidly. Similarly, it should be Melania’s decision whether she wants her old work published today.

In 1992, Princess Diana was secretly photographed by a hidden camera during a private gym session. She may have been fully-clothed by gym standards (leotard and cycling shorts) but it still represents a gross violation of her reasonable expectation of privacy. And while the Mirror, which published the photos, no doubt enjoyed a sales bump, there was outrage. From the Royal Family, as would be expected, but also from the public and even from members of the press. In a statement, a spokesman for British then-Prime Minister John Major said, “The government deplores any invasions of privacy. There seems no doubt that the media themselves consider the invasion of the Princess of Wales’ privacy was particularly flagrant. It brings into sharp focus the power of the Press Complaints Commission and the effectiveness of self-regulation against abuses of this kind.” In a 1995 settlement, the Mirror was prohibited from republishing the photos and ordered to destroy all remaining copies and negatives.

Maybe times have changed, or maybe people just liked Diana more than they do the Trumps, but where’s the outrage for the invasion of Melania’s privacy? Condemnation for the Post should be bipartisan.

The Torah tells us about not showing favoritism in judgment. This is (metaphorically) a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we are not to favor the rich and powerful as a means of currying favor (“do not show honor to the mighty” – Leviticus 19:15). On the other hand, we are told not to show favoritism to the downtrodden as a means of helping them out (“The destitute you shall not favor in his complaint” – Exodus 23:3). The Torah doesn’t tell us one or the other, it tells us both. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. What’s true is true and we have no right to tamper with justice for partisan reasons. Maimonides expresses a similar idea in his introduction to Shemoneh Perakim where he says, “Accept truth regardless of the source.”

I suspect people are ignoring truth and justice in this case because Donald Trump is so divisive and unpopular. But if something is wrong, it’s wrong regardless of who the injured party is.

A few months ago, Trump got into a Twitter battle with opponent Ted Cruz about their wives. Trump compared his wife Melania with Cruz’s wife Heidi, who is, shall we say, not a model. This slight was sufficient enough that, despite a commitment from all the Republican candidates to support whoever secured the nomination, Cruz declined to do so.

“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” Cruz said. “And that pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you slander and attack Heidi I’m going to nonetheless go like a servile puppy dog.” Fair enough. Nevertheless, I would love to hear Cruz say something along the lines of, “Using and humiliating the members of a candidate’s family is a despicable practice. The Post should be ashamed of themselves.”

Similarly, Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton will no doubt exchange many unpleasantries between now and November (and, I suspect, beyond). Nevertheless, I would love to hear Clinton, a defender of women’s rights, chastise the Post for what is ultimately a misogynistic practice.

What’s right is right, what’s wrong is wrong, and what’s true is true. Justice should not be perverted for the strong, the weak, or for partisan politics. Invading someone’s privacy to sell a few papers is wrong. It would be nice to hear people stand up for Melania as they did for Diana.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.