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US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump stand before a row of crosses honouring 23 people who died in the storm outside Providence Baptist Church in Opelika, Alabama during a March 8 visit. Photo: AFP

‘Fake Melania’ conspiracy theory about body double is ‘deranged’, says Donald Trump

  • Claims that body double for Melania Trump sometimes accompanies US leader were revived after visit to site of deadly Alabama tornado
  • TV show participants point to height difference in photos of woman with Trump in last week’s trip
Donald Trump

No, US President Donald Trump told conspiracy theorists on Wednesday, he does not have a body double of his wife accompanying him on work trips.

A bizarre claim that First Lady Melania Trump is sometimes replaced by another woman hidden behind large sunglasses and similar outfits resurfaced after Trump made a trip to the site of a deadly tornado in Alabama last week.

Days later, Trump leapt on the story, which is an outlier even by the feverish standards of the Washington rumour mill.

“The Fake News photoshopped pictures of Melania, then propelled conspiracy theories that it’s actually not her by my side in Alabama and other places,” he tweeted. “They are only getting more deranged with time!”

The body double conspiracy theory has been around since at least 2017, but resurfaced on Monday when participants on ABC television’s morning show The View examined a surge of internet chatter about the former fashion model’s Alabama appearance under the #fakeMelania hashtag.

Commentators on the show noted that the woman with Trump last week looked shorter than usual in photos and had a different facial structure. The first lady ditched her customary stilettos and wore trainers on the trip.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on who specifically Trump thought had doctored the photos. The president showed his frustration with press coverage of his wife during an interview this week with a conservative online news organisation.

If our first lady, if I were a Democrat instead of a Republican, she’d be Jackie O times 20
US President Donald Trump

“If our first lady, if I were a Democrat instead of a Republican, she’d be Jackie O times 20. Instead, they go after her,” Trump told Breitbart News in Monday’s interview.

Trump was referring to president John F. Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who often was referred to as “Jackie O” after she remarried following Kennedy’s assassination.

Several factors can influence the way people appear in photos, including the angle at which the photos are taken, the type of camera lens that is used and the positioning of the photographer, said Akili Ramsess, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association.

News images are not to be altered beyond basic toning and cropping, she said.

“Manipulation is against photojournalism ethics,” Ramsess said, adding that most newsrooms follow the ethics guidelines on the association’s website. “Photographers or editors can be fired over such manipulation.”

Toward the end of the debate on The View, contributor Ana Navarro-Cardenas, who opposes Trump, said: “Let’s have fun with Melania. She’s beautiful, and we’re doing this in jest.”

Abby Huntsman, a Republican on the panel, followed up by asking, “Does that make it better?” That prompted co-host Joy Behar, who also disapproves of Trump, to say: “We’re not here to be better people. We’re here to have a good laugh.”

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman, said the episode “went beyond the petty mean-girl spirit that we’ve grown accustomed to”.

“People died, people lost family, people are hurting in Alabama,” Grisham said Wednesday in an email.

“I personally watched the president and first lady hug, listen to and comfort people who had lost everything – and the ‘ladies’ of The View instead chose to laugh and joke about a body-double conspiracy.”