The ongoing saga of the Trump family outlined in tell-all books continued this week as Stephanie Grisham released her work I'll Take Your Questions Now. One story she revealed was that the entire Trump family couldn't understand what the role of a press secretary was and why they couldn't control the media.
She explained that they thought that the White House press secretary was like a publicist and that the role was planting positive stories in the media just like Hollywood types do to promote themselves and their profiles. Melania didn't understand why Grisham wasn't planting short puff pieces in People or Page Six, as other celebrities had.
"The host of 'Celebrity Apprentice' was held to a different standard by the press than a president or a first lady is. It's a totally different dynamic, and it took a long time—a very long time—for the Trumps to understand that. Maybe they never did," she wrote.
Because Melania started her career in modeling, photos were her language, not words, Grisham said.
"Master publicists could kill unflattering pieces, and she'd had the ability to approve whatever statements she offered to a reporter," the book explained. "Interviews were scripted and rare. It didn't take me long to realize that the entire Trump family had generally used marketing and advertising to sell their brands, meaning that they had paid publications and networks to run commercials or ads that said nice things about them or their products. Not to belabor the point, but that simply is not how it works in the White House."
So, Melania didn't quite get why Grisham couldn't just "tell reporters what to say or write." She had to explain to the new first lady what "propaganda" was and Mrs. Trump grew frustrated. She had to explain to Melania and the entire East Wing staff what "on the record" meant and "on background" was. They needed a full lesson on what a press pool can and can't do in a kind of Communications 101 class.
"And after three years, she and most of the staff still didn't understand it," wrote Grisham. "Or want to accept it. She had no sense of time pressure. The 24/7 political news cycle was completely foreign to her. She didn't understand that sweating over the perfect press release actually undermined her purposes because reporters wouldn't wait—the news cycle wouldn't wait—until she'd figured out the perfect statement."
When Melania finally decided she was ready to talk to someone about a story, the moment had passed and no one cared anymore. "The damage was done," wrote Grisham.
"I could see that she didn't know how to value which political reporters deserved attention, which news stories were problems, and which didn't really matter. Although neither would enjoy the comparison, she was similar to Ivanka in that way. Like her husband and all of his kids, Mrs. Trump scrutinized her press clippings like an expert architect focusing on blueprints. No detail was overlooked, nothing missed her eye. She had Google alerts set up for herself and saw everything. There were times she'd be angry over a story and tell me that 'it was everywhere' when I had not even seen it yet."
She also explained that the first lady ultimately demanded that all press inquiries be sent to her. Grisham said that most of the time Melania would simply say, "Don't replay," meaning, "Don't reply."
Grisham explained that it ultimately meant that Melania's image was controlled by others, instead of by the White House.
She recalled one incident in which she told the press, Melania planned to "continue supporting all those who were affected by natural disasters." Melania was furious and called Grisham in for a chat. Melania felt like she was "losing my own voice." Every word in the press had to come from Melania herself and not the spokesperson.
As a result, Grisham said, the coverage of her trip to Texas was about her stilettos instead of the compassion of the first lady for people in a disaster zone.
"There was some truth to that image—most rich people are out of touch, in my experience—but it wasn't true that she didn't care about people who suffered," said Grisham.
The Trump staffer later learned that Melania confidant and staffer Stephanie Wolkoff had convinced the first lady that talking to the press was all about building Grisham's own profile and not about Melania. After that, Grisham said she never spoke to a reporter again.