On Wednesday morning, President Trump — a man who rose to political prominence during the Obama years by pushing a conspiracy theory that America’s first black president was a secret Muslim from Africa — denounced a conspiracy theory about his own wife.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “They are only getting more deranged with time!”
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. They are only getting more deranged with time!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
The conspiracy theory Trump alluded too — we’ll call it “fake Melania” — holds that during some public appearances, a body double has filled in for Melania Trump. Despite what Trump tweeted, it is not based on photoshopped images, but instead on real images of Melania compared to older ones.
“Fake Melania” first spread on social media in the fall of 2017, when a Twitter user posted side-by-side photos and video clips to make a case that the woman who appeared by Trump’s side during a public event was not in fact Melania. It has been fueled by the White House’s lack of transparency about what the first lady is up to, such as when she disappeared from the public eye for nearly three weeks last year amid questions about her health and her relationship with her husband.
The conspiracy theory has gained steam again following Trump’s trip to Alabama last Friday — one in which a number of social media users speculated that the woman who traveled with the president was not in fact his wife.
President Trump viewing the 23 crosses representing the 23 tornado victims. pic.twitter.com/TgqkWOXLu9— Sally Pitts (@SallyPitts_WSFA) March 8, 2019
This is 100% not Melania Trump that Donald Trump is holding hands with pic.twitter.com/fV0ejfQPmj— Rupert Myers (@RupertMyers) March 8, 2019
To be clear, there’s no more basis to this conspiracy theory than there was to the one that Barack Obama’s birth certificate was fake. But on Monday, The View covered it during a tongue-in-cheek segment.
“I’m not convinced — how much effort is that gonna take for someone to figure out exactly how to be here,” co-host Abby Huntsman said (Huntsman is the daughter of Jon Huntsman, Trump’s ambassador to Russia). “If it’s not her, why not just stay home?”
FAKE MELANIA CONSPIRACIES RETURN: The internet is buzzing again with theories that first lady Melania Trump is using an imposter to stand in for her — the co-hosts investigate. https://t.co/f8u2wc159S pic.twitter.com/XNYBT9U6S8— The View (@TheView) March 11, 2019
Later Monday, Melania’s spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, tweeted criticism of The View’s coverage.
.@flotus & @potus traveled to Alabama to pay their respects & comfort victims of the tornado devastation. In typical fashion, @theview chooses to laugh in the face of tragedy. Shameful. https://t.co/KzG2c4Th4a— Stephanie Grisham (@StephGrisham45) March 11, 2019
Two days later, Fox & Friends also weighed in with a segment that apparently brought the conspiracy theory to Trump’s attention — prompting one of many tweets he posted about his favorite TV show during Wednesday’s installment of “executive time.”
Trump’s tweet highlights the Fox News-to-White House pipeline
Trump first tweeted about “fake Melania” around an hour after Fox & Friends did a segment on the topic that was centered on criticizing The View.
Trump’s tweet embodies the Fox News-to-White House pipeline, coming as it did during a morning the president seemed to while away by live-tweeting a Fox & Friends episode he watched on delay.
In addition to the “fake Melania” tweet, Trump also tweeted about segments the show did on Jay Leno criticizing liberal comedians, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s move to put a moratorium on the death penalty in the state, the release of a transcript of ex-FBI agent Lisa Page’s congressional testimony, and comments former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz made on the show criticizing former FBI Director James Comey.
Indeed, live-tweeting Fox & Friends has become something of a pastime for the president.
On Wednesday, Trump posted his first Fox & Friends-inspired tweet at 7:15 am and his last at 10:14 am. Trump had nothing on his public schedule for Wednesday until 11:30 am, when he was scheduled to receive an “intelligence briefing.”
Despite what Trump said, “fake Melania” isn’t based on photoshopped images
Beyond the hypocrisy of a man who has embraced countless conspiracy theories over the years now denouncing conspiracy theories, Trump’s tweet about “fake Melania” represented an unfair attack on the media.
Despite what Trump would have you believe, no major media outlets have used photoshopped images of Melania to push conspiracy theories about her. In fact, beyond The View, the theory hasn’t gotten much coverage at all, other than a few outlets aggregating social media posts about it from mostly random users.
It’s unclear where Trump got the idea that “fake Melania” is based on photoshopped images. That idea didn’t come up during Fox & Friends’ discussion, or on The View. Perhaps Trump saw the images of Melania displayed during Fox & Friends’ discussion and thought they must’ve been photoshopped.
Regardless, Trump, thirsty as always to attack the press, spun a conspiracy theory that originated from the dark corners of Twitter and used it to attack the “Fake News” with a conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory.
Melania Trump has spread conspiracy theories herself
While two wrongs don’t make a right, it’s worth noting that Melania herself has indulged in conspiracy theories.
During an April 2011 appearance on The Joy Behar Show — ironically, Behar is now a co-host of The View — Melania echoed her husband by questioning whether Obama’s birth certificate is legit.
“It’s not only Donald who wants to see [Obama’s birth certificate], it’s American people who voted for him and who didn’t vote for him. They want to see that,” she said, prompting Behar to point out that Obama had in fact produced his birth certificate. But Melania indicated that wasn’t enough for her.
“We feel it’s different than birth certificate,” Melania responded.
That time Melania was knee deep in the birther movement. pic.twitter.com/trrECOZ5Mh— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) November 18, 2016
Eight years and an unlikely presidential run later, the Trumps are now on the business end of conspiracy theories. What goes around comes around.