Former New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald slammed Melania Trump for renovating the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, saying he is furious because the first lady is a ‘foreigner’ who has ‘no right to wreck our history’.
The offensive outburst drew condemnation from a number of fellow journalists, such as CNN’s Jake Tapper, who accused Eichenwald of being ‘xenophobic and wrong’.
Eichenwald’s outburst came within hours of Melania revealing the new-look Rose Garden on Saturday afternoon, completed in time for her to make her case for her husband’s re-election when she speaks there on Tuesday at the Republican National Convention.
‘It is a destruction of our history, something no other First Lady would have had the gall to do,’ Eichenwald, a New York Times bestselling author, fumed on Twitter in response.
‘This is the first time I have been furious that @FLOTUS is a foreigner. She has no right to wreck our history.’
The comments came in response to a tweet from FLOTUS that voiced her excitement over being a part of such a historic project, thanking all of those who made it possible to ‘renew this iconic & truly gorgeous space.’
On Sunday Eichenwald, 59, apologized for his tweets – which have since been deleted.
‘People may have misunderstood my point about Melania being a foreigner & ripping up plants put in place by almost 100 years of First Ladies,’ he tweeted.
‘It was a complex point & I was wrong to say it. My point was, people who come to America should celebrate its history, not ignore it.
‘But I deleted the tweets. I did not have the ill-intent they seemed to have conveyed to so many.
‘I should be more careful in what those types of words seem to imply. We all fail in our words at times, this was one of my times. I apologize.’
Melania, who grew up in Slovenia but became a US citizen in 2006, posted the tweet on the same day the garden was unveiled to reporters, after more than three weeks of construction.
She said she had been hoping to redesign the garden to restore it to its original 1962 blueprint dating back the administration of John F. Kennedy.
‘Preserving the history and beauty of the White House and its grounds is a testament to our nation’s commitment to the care of this landscape and our dedication to American ideals, safeguarding them for our children and their children for generations to come,’ Melania said.
However, the first lady’s sentiments regarding the preservation of history did little to stem the disdain of Eichenwald, who leveled a second explosive tweet at Melania on Saturday.
Eichenwald, who spent two decades as a senior writer at The New York Times, wrote: ‘I still find it unbelievable that @FLOTUS who has only been a citizen since the middle of GW Bush’s second term had the audacity to wreck the Rose Garden, to pull up history dating back a lifetime.
‘These trashy, evil, stupid people need to get out of our house,’ he continued. ‘What GALL she has.’
The second tweet was no longer visible on Eichenwald’s timeline as of Sunday afternoon.
Both of the author’s comments drew considerable contempt from his media peers, in addition to members of the public.
Mehdi Hasan, a senior columnist for The Intercept and a host for Al Jazeera, wrote in response to the second message: ‘This is a horrible anti-immigrant take, Kurt, and you should delete it and apologize.’
Hasan’s admonishment was echoed by CNN host Jake Tapper, who replied to Hasan, writing: ‘Agree. @kurteichenwald this is xenophobic and wrong. It’s bigotry.’
Members of the public agreed, who called out Eichenwald for his hypocrisy, with one user writing: ‘She is restoring it to the original design! And somehow this would be considered wrecking out history, but tearing down monuments and statues is not? She’s not the one wrecking our country, look in the mirror.’
In a tweet responding to a swell of criticism, Eichenwald doubled down that ‘Someone who has only been a citizen for less than 1/3 of her life should be reverent to America’s history, should honor our history, not decide her personal taste should rip it up.’
Melania Trump has not yet responded publicly to Eichenwald’s comments.
Asked by DailyMail.com, the White House declined to comment, as did The New York Times.
Texas-born Eichenwald worked at The New York Times from 1986-2006, writing largely about financial scandals, but then branching out into wider investigative reporting.
In 2000 he was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, for an investigation of medical clinical trials.
He is the author of five books – one of which, The Informant, was turned into a 2009 Steven Soderbergh film, starring Matt Damon.
He left the Times to join Conde Nast’s Portfolio magazine, which only lasted for two years.
Eichenwald then went to work for Newsweek, coming under fire for tweeting, shortly before the election: ‘I believe Trump was institutionalized in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown in 1990, which is why he won’t release medical records.’
There’s no evidence that Trump was ever hospitalized for such a condition, and Eichenwald cited none.
The tweet was quickly deleted from Eichenwald’s account, though not before it received hundreds of retweets and ‘likes’.
In June 2017, Eichenwald was embroiled in another bizarre Twitter storm, when he tweeted a photo of his computer screen.
The screen showed several tabs open, among them one showing the fetish ‘tentacle porn’.
Eichenwald claimed he had the tab open to prove to his wife that it did indeed exist.
Eichenwald also worked for Vanity Fair as a contributing editor – but found out he no longer had a job during another Twitter storm.
In April 2018 he emailed conservative commentator Ben Shapiro and said that a survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting was ‘in desperate need of psychiatric help’.
Shapiro posted the exchange online, commenting: ‘I just received this from @kurteichenwald. There are no words for how wild this email is. @VanityFair is apparently an odd place.’
Eichenwald had not by that point appeared on the magazine’s masthead for more than a year, with his last piece for the publication running online in 2014, according to a Vanity Fair source.
He, however, still presented himself as an editor at the magazine.
‘Kurt Eichenwald is not a contributing editor at Vanity Fair,’ a spokesperson for the magazine told The Hill, in April 2018.
Eichenwald claimed no one had told him.
‘Hell of a way to find out. I have been a contributing editor – contracted freelancer – with Vanity Fair for 6 years,’ Eichenwald said in a tweet. ‘I live in Dallas & have not been in contact with the new editor in charge. My contract expired and was not renewed. Called my friends there – all of them gone too.’
Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, had previously hit the headlines in 2016 when, after an appearance on Fox News, he opened an animated image sent to him on Twitter in December with the message ‘You deserve a seizure for your posts’ appeared in capital letters along with a blinding strobe light.
Eichenwald immediately suffered a seizure, leaving him incapacitated for several days, losing the feeling in his left hand and having trouble speaking for several weeks, according to his lawyer.
John Rayne Rivello, 29, was arrested in March at his home in Salisbury, Maryland, and accused him of sending the electronic file. The agency charged Rivello with criminal cyberstalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm.
The first lady received her fair share of negative tweets in response to her Rose Garden reveal, with many likening it to a ‘a cemetery’ and ‘parking lot’.
The 50-year-old was also widely admonished for uprooting the garden’s historic cherry trees.
The hashtag #MarieAntoinette was trending Saturday, as several compared the First Lady to the French ruler by citing her ill timing in throwing money at a garden while millions of Americans have lost their jobs and found themselves on the breadline amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Swathes of Americans took to social media Saturday to voice their horror over the new look for the Rose Garden, pointing to its dramatic shift from color and blooms to the much more minimalist design and barely there flowers.
‘The Trumps paved paradise and put up a parking lot,’ wrote one person.
‘Parched and colorless, much like the rabble currently living within,’ one person tweeted.
Another wrote: ‘What a shame, Melania took something beautiful and made it cold, colorless and boring.’
Others described its new look as that of a ‘cemetery’ alongside an aerial image of a bare lawn.
Much of the criticism also focused on the absence of the cherry blossom trees that once lined the garden.
‘And in yet another insult to George Washington and the country, Melania ordered the cherry tree to be chopped down,’ one person tweeted.
‘They cut down the cherry trees. I’m outraged. Just because you made it all white will not purify the occupants,’ agreed another.’
One critic blasted the move citing the relevance of the trees to America’s culture and heritage.
‘Who cuts down Beautiful, historic cherry trees meant to symbolize our friendship with Japan? Tragic,’ they tweeted.
Some cited the drastic makeover as a sign of Trump’s America, saying the multicolored flowers being replaced with white flowers marked a lack diversity at the White House.
‘Chopping down the cherry trees because they’re symbols of honesty. Replacing the multicolored flowers because they’re symbols of diversity,’ one person tweeted.
‘Sidewalk installed because 45* can’t walk on grass. Don’t want him falling over into the WHITE ONLY flowerbed.’
Another person added it was a ‘metaphor for what Trump has done to this country’.
‘Melania’s renovated Rose Garden is a metaphor for what Trump has done to this country. Removed all the well established beautiful things, took out all the color, and turned it all white, and charged the American taxpayer way to much to do it,’ they tweeted.
Questions were also raised about a political motive to wiping out the heritage of the Trumps’ predecessors at the White House.
‘Jackie Kennedy redid the rose garden and planted the trees that were removed,’ one person tweeted.
‘I am incensed that before they are going to be leaving, Melania thought it appropriate to remove Jackie Kennedy’s garden.
‘This, of course, after removing Michele Obama’s garden. Erasing history.’
Ten crabapple trees that were part of Jackie Kennedy’s original design were removed from the garden, with officials saying the shade they cast over the garden was compromising the health of the plants.
However a White House official said the trees were moved to a greenhouse and will, at a future date, be replanted in other areas of the White House lawn.
Aside from the physical appearance of the garden, Melania was also blasted for the optics around revealing an expensive remodeling at a time when the nation is in crisis with millions out of work, homelessness on the up in major cities and more than 176,000 Americans so far killed by coronavirus.
The First Lady quickly earned the nickname Marie Antoinette on Twitter with people comparing her to the French ruler who is said to have infamously quipped ‘let them eat cake’ when told that her subjects didn’t even have bread to eat.
‘The White House is not Versailles but Melania is a lot like Marie Antoinette,’ one person tweeted.
‘I’d say that overhauling your garden during a time of national unrest is a real Marie Antoinette move, but to my knowledge Marie Antoinette did not make the garden worse,’ added another.
Another wrote: ‘If this isn’t a Marie Antionette moment I don’t know what is. Who cares about a redesigned rose garden when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, 175k+ people are dead and millions are out of work?’
The garden was privately funded and Melania and President Trump planned to host a private reception for the donors, whose names are not being publicly released, in the new Rose Garden Saturday night.
The East Wing declined to provide the cost of the redesign, which also included much needed updates, such as electrical upgrades for TV appearances, new walkways that are ADA accessible, and general repair work on the area.
The garden was closed for about six weeks during the renovations. It is one of the president’s favorite places to hold press conferences. The garden is also used for the annual turkey pardoning, state dinners and other official events.
White is the dominate theme of the new space, including the addition of white JFK roses in honor of President Kennedy, whose envisioned a large garden outside the Oval Office.
Smatterings of pink roses and lavender flowers add a pop of color to the diamond-shaped flower beds.
The garden was designed with the presidency in mind, according to the first lady’s office. The removal of a holly ledge allows a better view of the garden on the president’s walk along the colonnade from the residence to the Oval Office on his daily commute.
One notable change is Melania Trump remodeled the section of the garden nicknamed the ‘Obama beer summit.’ On July 16, 2009, then President Barack Obama invited Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, who had been arrested in an event that sparked accusations of racial profiling, and Sgt. James Crowley, the officer who arrested him, to the White House to talk about the situation over a few beers. Obama, then Vice President Joe Biden, Gates and Crowley sat at a table in the Rose Garden for the conversation.
The table has been removed and that area has been replaced with new limestone pavers and steps. The first lady’s office said it will be ‘the new site for an unannounced art installation.’
Several bushes were also removed, making the space more open and giving it a larger appearance. The removal of the bushes opened up the colonnade area and allowed a better view from the White House down onto the South Lawn.
The predominant rose veritable used in the new design is the ‘JFK Rose,’ a white flower. They fill the length of the garden with large white rose plants know as the ‘Pope John Paul II Rose’ towering over them. These roses were included in honor of his 1979 visit, the first visit of a Pope to the White House. There is also a selection of ‘peace roses,’ named in commemoration of the end of World War II.
The rose plants are small now but will grow over the years.
Additionally the garden is seasonal – meaning the flowers will change with the seasons. Tulips were predominate in the spring, with the roses in the summer and mums in the fall.
‘Our country has seen difficult times before, but the White House and the Rose Garden have always stood as a symbol of our strength, resilience and continuity,’ Melania Trump said when she announced the redesign earlier this summer.
Melania has undertaken many a renovation project during her tenure in the East Wing. She’s overseen the redesign of the White House bowling alley, freshened up decorations in the public rooms on the State floor – the Green Room, the Blue Room and the Red Room – and is installing a tennis pavilion on the White House grounds.
The White House Rose Garden – an area that is 125-foot long, 60-foot wide – sits outside the Oval Office on the West Wing of the executive mansion. It is maintained by the National Park Service.
Presidents have used the garden for a variety of events, including the announcement of Supreme Court justices, press conferences, state dinners and the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey. Tricia Nixon was married in the Rose Garden on June 12, 1971.
It was first established by Edith Wilson in 1913 on top of a previous garden established by Edith Roosevelt in 1902. Prior to that, the area contained the White House stables and later was a garden area to grow food for the first family.
In 1961, Mellon redesigned the garden area at the request of President Kennedy. Known for her personal gardens at her Virginia estate, Mellon put in a more defined central lawn, bordered by flower beds that were planted in a French style but used American plants. Roses make up the majority of the blooming flowers but the garden also contains jonquil, daffodil, fritillaria, grape hyacinth, tulips, chionodoxa and squil.
Mellon died in the 2014 but she told the White House Historical Association in 1983 that, after his state visit to France, President Kennedy asked her to redo the area outside of the Oval Office to make the equivalent to gardens he had seen in Europe.
‘The President had noted that the White House had no garden equal in quality or attractiveness to the gardens that he had seen and in which he had been entertained in Europe. There he had recognized the importance of gardens surrounding an official residence and their appeal to the sensibilities of all people,’ she noted.
She cited magnolia trees as her original inspiration, planting one in each of the four corners of the garden. She left the lawn area in the middle open for events but installed a 12-foot border for smaller trees, roses, and other flowers, noting President Kennedy loved flowers and requested species used in Thomas Jefferson’s time.
Using a diamond shape, she boxed in flowering plants among hedges setting the garden up to have a rotation of plants blooming throughout spring, summer and fall.
Mellon, a noted philanthropist, designed the steps coming from the Oval Office to the garden to be used as either steps or a stage. At the east end of the garden is a flagstone terrace for the president to use for private outdoor lunches or meetings.
She recalled the ups and downs of the project, including how ‘one day while were removing the old soil and replacing it with new, we cut into a mysterious cable buried in a corner of the garden. It turned out to be the hot line that set off the nation’s military alert.’ The line had been hastily installed during World War II for President Franklin Roosevelt’s use.
Since the Rose Garden was unveiled in 1962, changes in the planting have taken place but Mellon’s original design remains largely intact.
Various administrations have made their contributions, such as stone walk ways, new trees, and added flowering plants.
Mellon was also brought in during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency to work on a garden outside the East Wing, which was eventually named the Jacqueline Kennedy Rose Garden.
In 1981, Nancy Reagan asked Mellon to return to the garden to help update the plants and design.