I never hesitated to believe Natasha Stoynoff when I first read that she was the People reporter who accused Donald Trump of forcing himself on her in December 2005. Natasha’s unsettling, first-person account now explains why I, and not she, was assigned to interview Donald and Melania Trump for People in April 2006.
A decade ago, People landed the first photo shoot (billion-dollar-baby_trump_people) with the Trumps and their newborn son Barron in the family’s luxurious penthouse in Trump Tower. The reporting assignment normally would have gone to Natasha because she had been the magazine’s Trump beat writer for years. As many of us read last week, Natasha refused to interview The Donald again after that fateful day at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
When I read Natasha’s words detailing the despicable kissing and spa episodes, something clicked in my memory bank. I remembered something hush-hush going on for a while in People’s New York bureau, but I wasn’t privy to any details. I had started working out of that bureau in the summer of 2005 after being a staff correspondent in People’s Los Angeles bureau from 1998-2000 and freelancing for the magazine when I lived in Italy from 2003-2005.
While I usually interviewed A-list celebrities and covered fashion, I found it odd for me to land an at-home with the Trumps since I hadn’t written about the family before. The confirmation for my Trump assignment came the day before the shoot was to take place.
The evening before the photo shoot, I saw Donald at a memorial for fashion designer Oleg Cassini. How fortuitous for me, I thought, because it gave me the opportunity to meet the billionaire in a neutral setting so I didn’t have to break the ice with him at his residence when my interview time with him was so limited. I approached him and introduced myself as the People reporter who would interview him the following day. He was pleasant, as I recall. Natasha was at the memorial too. Both she and Donald had been friends of the late designer and gave separate eulogies that evening. I didn’t know until I read Natasha’s story a few days ago that the memorial was the first time she had seen Donald since she had interviewed him in Florida at Mar-a-Lago, where she wrote that he attacked her.
I first heard about Natasha’s story while listening to CNN on the car radio a day after People published her story. The CNN report said a People writer had come forward to make accusations against Trump. The journalist’s name was not given but Trump’s disparaging comment about her looks was played.
Being the curious person I am, I had to know immediately who this unattractive People reporter was to see if I knew her. I know I shouldn’t be typing on my smartphone while driving, but this question could not be left to Siri. I Googled “People reporter Trump” and Natasha Stoynoff’s name came up in a headline. I was shocked! I don’t know what surprised me more: that I knew how trustworthy the person making the accusation was or that Donald criticized Natasha’s natural good looks.
It wouldn’t be until several hours later that I was able to read Natasha’s story. I never doubted her account for even a second. This is a woman I trust. I first met Natasha in Park City, Utah in 2000 when I worked in People’s Los Angeles bureau. The magazine had rented a two-bedroom condo for its reporters covering the Sundance Film Festival, and my days briefly overlapped with Natasha’s so we didn’t spend much time together. I wouldn’t get to know her until I moved to New York five years later.
I always admired, maybe even envied, Natasha. She seemed to have it all: she excelled in her job at People, where she worked hard and was well-respected. She wrote books, was confident, was sensible, had a husband who was personable and creative, was well-connected, was pretty without having to pack makeup on her face, had a gorgeous mane and didn’t seem to have any body issues the way a lot of females who are not pencil thin do. As she wrote in her People story:
I’m a tall, strapping girl who grew up wrestling two giant brothers. I even once sparred with Mike Tyson.
There was nothing phony or deceitful about her. Both Natasha and her husband guided me when I was securing my first book deal and didn’t know the first thing about book contracts and literary agents. We lived in the same apartment building, and her husband was quoted in a New York Times story on me since he was a neighbor who knew me. Despite our closeness in proximity, Natasha and I didn’t visit each other’s apartments or hang out together outside of the office.
I wasn’t someone she would have confided in about the incident with The Donald. Apparently, Natasha did tell some people, including one of her former journalism professors, Paul McLaughlin, who corroborated Natasha’s claim.
I’m glad I didn’t know, for I don’t know if I could have feigned enough respect for Donald to get through the interview. For the record, Donald was a complete gentleman with me at his penthouse. The lengthy photo shoot and interview couldn’t have gone better. I only wish Natasha Stoynoff could say the same about her time with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago four months prior.
I’m periodically updating this blog post with relative links:
Journalism professor supports People writer’s claims against Trump (Huffington Post)