“I deserved the criticism,” the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says as she apologizes for the Instagram post seen ’round the world.
I first met Louise Linton in early August, two weeks before her name would dominate headlines — before she was likened to Cruella de Vil. The Scottish-born actress had wed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin six weeks prior and now Washington Life was asking her to participate in a story about her new home and life as a Cabinet wife. She wanted to meet in person before committing to the interview, so she invited me for tea.
Linton wore no makeup for the occasion and was dressed in exercise pants and a SoulCycle sweatshirt. We sat at her kitchen table, where she poured me a blend of Earl Grey and green tea topped with vanilla soy milk, a favorite combination. She was bubbly and open, her Scottish lilt becoming increasingly evident as we discussed her wedding, time in Washington and her three rescue Chihuahuas, who lay in their beds nearby.
We decided to meet again for a formal interview and photo shoot two weeks later, after she returned from a delayed honeymoon in Europe. I asked that she pose in evening gowns as the story would run in our September Balls & Galas issue and she agreed to do so.
In a follow-up email, Linton informed me she wouldn’t be available on Monday, Aug. 21. “I am going to visit Kentucky with Steven and I’m very excited about it,” she wrote. We rescheduled our interview for Tuesday, yet that was the day the headlines came: “Mnuchin Wife Goes Full Marie Antoinette in Instagram Meltdown” screamed a Vanity Fair web piece. “Louise Linton has proved herself to be an exceptionally obnoxious human being,” wrote Robin Givhan of the Washington Post.
During her trip to Kentucky, Linton had posted an Instagram photo of herself disembarking a government plane with her husband in which she tagged the designers she was wearing. The post garnered criticism from another user, Jenni Miller, an Oregon mother of three, who insinuated in a comment that taxpayer dollars had paid for Linton’s “little side trip” and signed the message with the hashtag #deplorable. Linton, who as a child spent weekends at her family’s castle in Scotland and is married to a multi-millionaire former hedge fund manager, fired back, calling Miller “adorably out of touch” and writing “Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.” Cable news programs and the Internet soon pounced and by the end of the following day, when we were to meet for our interview, it seemed she had been universally vilified for what many perceived as flaunting her wealth and shaming the poor.
Still, Linton held to our date, and once again served tea, but was distracted, excusing herself several times to take phone calls from her publicist, husband and friends calling to check in. She did not answer questions about the episode and the next morning canceled our photo shoot and asked that we not run a story as planned, concerned about posing in ball gowns the same week her picture was plastered next to headlines reading, “Let Them Eat Cake.”
I offered her the opportunity to tell her side of the story on the record, and after changing her mind twice, Linton acquiesced. Five days after her infamous Instagram post, which resulted in innumerable social media messages calling her, among other things, a “scumbag” and “a disgusting human being,” she sat down for an emotional interview in which she blamed herself without question and expressed remorse for writing words she says do not reflect who she truly is. >>
WASHINGTON LIFE: Have you even left the house this week or have you just sort of hunkered down?
LOUISE LINTON: I’ve popped out a couple of times but I’ve spent this week really reflecting and absorbing and thinking about all of it. Something like this requires extreme thought and introspection and I had to absorb the criticism and figure out how I can influence the world in a positive way instead of how I did by making that post.
WL: What has it been like to have stolen headlines and received such backlash for your Instagram post?
LL: It was scary and surreal but it forced me to take a deep look at what I had done. I don’t feel like a victim. I feel like the world gave me a good, hard wake-up call and I’m OK with that.
WL: I know you’ve been thinking about this a lot over the course of the week and that you would like to address the situation and your critics directly. Here’s your chance.
LL: I want to say I concede completely to the comments of my critics. My post itself and the following response were indefensible. Period. I don’t have any excuses, nor do I feel any self-pity for the backlash I experienced. I sincerely take ownership of my mistake. It’s clear that I was the one who was truly out of touch and my response was reactionary and condescending. I wish I hadn’t spoken in such a patronizing tone. It was an out of character, knee-jerk reaction, and I felt so awful about it that I removed it.
WL: What about the comments mentioning sacrifice?
LL: I had no place to talk about sacrifice when there are millions of men and women making real sacrifices for this country every day. My husband is very fortunate to be part of the government. It is a great honor and privilege and in no way is his work, or my part in this, any kind of sacrifice.
WL: How have you and Steven dealt with this together?
LL: We love each other through thick and thin, through good times and through bad and that’s all I can really say about that. We’ve been through good things, we’ve been through bad things and we love each other like any other couple and that means sticking together through all life events. That’s really it.
WL: So, why did you respond the way you did to the comment from Jenni Miller?
LL: I’ve had torrents of social media criticism before and never really responded. I don’t know why I did this time, but I really regret it. I wish I could take it back, but all I can do is learn from this and turn my focus to things that actually matter and place my energy behind causes I care about. [She pauses, suddenly overcome with emotion.]
WL: Would you like to take a moment?
LL: No. I’m OK. I was just thinking, remember how those old computers would go into safety mode and you couldn’t access all your applications? I’ve been in black and white safety mode like that all week.
WL: Do you understand why this became such big news?
LL: Yes. It was newsworthy because I was on a government trip and my husband is a government employee. As his wife, I am now a more public person and I am, and should be, held to a higher standard of ethics and care. Instead of emphasizing the things I truly care about, like family, animal rescue and my work, as I had in the past, I was trying to portray a certain public image. It was a moment of weakness and misdirection that doesn’t reflect who I really am. I’m not used to this level of scrutiny. This is a fairly new world, but that’s not an excuse. I one hundred percent embrace the comments of my critics and I concede wholeheartedly that the post was boastful and materialistic and my response was extremely thoughtless. I should have known better than to be so insensitive.
WL: Were you trying to be boastful and materialistic?
LL: I was just trying to portray what I thought was a public image that isn’t me. This is me. [Pointing to herself in a sweatshirt and leggings] This is me every day. I’m this girl. I’m a no makeup girl. I was trying to create this public image that was elegant and stylish, but that was just so clueless because I should have focused on who I really am instead.
WL: Did you feel the criticism was overblown?
LL: No. I feel like I deserved the criticism and my response is ‘thanks for waking me up quickly and for turning me back in the right direction.’ My response is, ‘I’m sorry.’‘
WL: If you could talk to the woman you interacted with on Instagram face to face what would you say?
LL: I would say I’m very sorry, sincerely. I would ask her about the causes that are important to her and perhaps find something that we could work on together in the spirit of unity and love.
WL: You just said this is who you really are. Who are you?
LL: I’m a person who tries to be compassionate, caring and warm to every single person I meet. I’m gentle-natured and I respect people tremendously, which is why that reply was so out of character. On a daily basis, I’m a girl that’s at her desk, barefoot in gym clothes working on films and animal welfare. I love my family. I’m a fiercely loyal friend. I’m a homebody at heart and I love to be around my dogs.
WL: So, the social media Louise is not the real Louise?
LL: The social media Louise of that week was not me. I should have stuck to posting pictures of rescue dogs and daily life. I don’t know why I felt pressure to portray an image that was all about the clothes. It was short lived, and I got my slap on the wrist pretty quick. I received the message loud and clear. I understand the criticism and I am keen to move forward with my life and to proactively help others. Really. And I hope that my actions over the next few weeks, next few months, next few years and over the rest of my life show that. I feel I can show through my actions who I really am.
WL: How do you get past this and look ahead?
LL: Mistakes happen and we must choose what to do with them. We can ignore them or we can learn and evolve into someone better and wiser. This experience has been a life-changing event and has given me renewed focus on things that actually matter. Since this happened I’ve been researching social issues in my community and reading the heartbreaking stories of people’s experiences with homelessness and abuse. This has truly opened my eyes and humbled me. And I’m turning my focus back to the charities I’m passionate about such as Mutt Match animal rescue group that I’ve been working with for nearly a decade, and I’d like to support the Humane Society as well as local rescues here in D.C. I’ve applied to volunteer at a homeless mission here … as well as at a women’s organization that offers housing, health and employment programs to empower homeless women to change their lives.
WL: It took some persuading after all of this to convince you to pose in beautiful dresses for the photos. Are you concerned that people are going to criticize you for wearing a gown on a magazine cover just after you were likened to Marie Antoinette?
LL: Yes. And I know that they will … I see the irony of making an apology in a ball gown! But it would be dishonest to proclaim that I’m never going to go to another social function. That’s also part of my life. Charity fundraising galas have always been a wonderful way to support a myriad of causes. Whether I’m in a ball gown or a pair of jeans, it’s not about me, or what I’m wearing, it’s about what I can be doing to support and empower others going forward. I hope my actions speak more for me in the future than my hashtags!
Makeup by Nour Kazoun | Hair by Marleny Rodriguez for Veluxe | Styling Assistance by Diana Mercier Sorrentino | Gowns provided by Carine’s Bridal Atelier, Washington, D.C.
This story appears in the September 2017 issue of Washington Life Magazine.