Wife of treasury secretary touts big-money fashion on social media, critics recall memoir
Before Louise Linton's bizarre Instagram exchange Monday and before her lavish June wedding to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the wealthy Scottish actress wrote a memoir about her gap year in Zambia in the late 1990s.
The book, self-published last year, was condemned by the Zambian government, scorched by critics as a "white savior" fantasy and ultimately removed from sales, according to the Telegraph.
If Linton, 36, was trying to put such controversy behind her, she appears to have done the opposite.
On Monday, Linton bragged on Instagram about flying on a government plane with her husband to Kentucky. She listed the slew of fashion brands she wore on the trip, tagging them by name. In response to a critical comment about her picture, the treasury secretary's wife disparaged the woman, boasting about her extreme wealth.
"You're adorably out of touch," she said in her snarky response. "Your life looks cute."
As news of the exchange circulated, social media users were quick to remember last year's Zambia memoir debacle, along with the hashtag it had prompted: #LintonLies.
Linton's book, "In Congo's Shadow," described how, as an 18-year-old, she "abandoned her privileged life in Scotland" in 1999 to live in Zambia for six months, a period that she described as "a living nightmare." She wrote about becoming a "central character" in the "horror story" of Congolese war of the late 1990s, terrified of what the rebels across the border might do to the "skinny white muzungu with long angel hair." (Muzungu is a Bantu term often used to refer to wealthy white people.)
She added: "Now that I'm a grown woman living in California and pursuing a very different dream - as an actress and film producer - I know that the skinny white girl once so incongruous in Africa still lives on inside me. Even in this world where I'm supposed to belong, I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola."
The memoir, a 290-page account written with Wendy Holden, included what many Zambians characterized as cliches and misrepresentations of Africa. Linton wrote of the "inky blackness deep in the Zambian bush" and the "brutal tales of rape and murder."
"With a cheery smile, I'd waved goodbye to Dad and jumped on a plane to Africa without researching anything about its tumultuous political history or realising that my destination - Lake Tanganyika - was just miles from war-torn Congo," Linton wrote in an excerpt published in the Telegraph.
One publication, OkayAfrica, referred to Linton as "delusional" and called her account the "the dumbest, most egregious piece of writing on Africa of the 21st century."
The memoir, it turns out, was also littered with inaccuracies, as Zambians pointed out on social media.
The Zambian High Commission in London denounced Linton and her "falsified' memoir for depicting the country as "savage." It accused Linton of "tarnishing the image of a very friendly and peaceful country."
"It is a historic fact that Zambia has never been at war but rather has been home to thousands of refugees fleeing wars from other African countries," a statement from the Zambian embassy read. "The Congo war has never spilt into Zambia." It also condemned how Linton identified children with HIV and published their photographs in the book.
"We join many others who have taken time to condemn the stereotyping of Africa and Zambia as a backward country in a jungle, thinking which is not of the 21st century," the embassy said.
Lydia Ngoma, a Zambian poet and writer who read the book, told NPR many of Linton's facts were wrong.
"Child soldiers in Zambia? Rebels violently crossing over into Zambian borders? Those are such shocking allegations that any Zambian will tell you did not happen," she says. "She mixes Zambia, Congo and Rwanda so many times leading to the generalization of Africa as 'one big country' - something we have been trying to fight for a while now," Ngoma said.
"She paints herself as a 'savior' in her memoir while the rest of the characters are either racists, or ignorant creatures."
One Twitter user wrote at the time: "The only thing missing from the @LouiseLinton story is Tarzan and Mowgli."
In response to the public outrage, Linton apologized on Twitter, saying she was "deeply sorry to those whom I have offended."
"I was reflecting and remembering a personal experience as an idealistic teenager that changed my life many years ago," she wrote. "I mistakenly thought I could inspire readers by sharing my memories of my time in Africa. The sad truth is that my intent behind the book was to share an empathetic attitude but the result was the exact opposite."
The Telegraph soon followed with its own apology, withdrawing the excerpt from its website. It also announced that Linton agreed to remove the book from sale and "give the profits to charity."
The article "mistakenly implied that the conflicts in Congo and Rwanda had spilled over into Zambia, that Zambia was a war-torn country in 1999 and that armed rebels had crossed Lake Tanganyika to Zambia that year," the Telegraph statement read. "Other claims of inaccuracy were also made."
Social media users who recalled Linton's memoir last year appeared less than surprised about her most recent controversy:
"Shocking that person who wrote famously gross article about Africa also turns out to a person who acts like this.
- Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) August 22, 2017"
"What? Louise Linton in trouble again? After her controversial portrayal of Zambia in a vanity book, who'd have thought? #SheIsATireFire
- Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) August 22, 2017"
Linton, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, attended Fettes College, an elite Scottish boarding school, according to her online biography. She reportedly grew up in a luxurious castle in Dalkeith that she claimed was "haunted."
The actress and producer has appeared in roles in television shows such as"CSI: NY" and "Cold Case" and the movies "Intruder," "Lions for Lambs" and "Cabin Fever." Her biography speaks highly of her philanthropic work and roles on numerous boards, touting Linton as a "passionate advocate for people and animals."
Linton has appeared in a number of magazine spreads - including a topless shoot for Maxim in 2009.
One of these magazine features - a particularly unusual one - was shared widely leading up to her June wedding to treasury secretary Mnuchin. In an extravagant spread in Town & Country, Linton shared her large collection of jewels, including many she said were gifts from Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs exec.
"You never really own a diamond," she said. "You just get to keep it for a while before it begins a new journey with someone else." Of a pair of earrings, she said: "I love how easy pearls are to wear with anything and everything."
Her wedding to Mnuchin, 54, at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium proceeded in a similar posh fashion. She wore a full-skirted gown with a plunging neckline and "heaps of diamonds," as The Washington Post's Emily Heil reported. It was the third marriage for Mnuchin and the second for Linton.
Vice President Mike Pence officiated. Her guests included President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, and first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband and White House adviser, Jared Kushner. Other Trump administration officials and members of the Washington elite were in attendance.