In tweets that have since been deleted, Kurt Eichenwald branded the president’s wife – who obtained US citizenship some 14 years ago – a “foreigner” who has “no right to wreck our history”.
Mr Eichenwald’s comments came just hours after Ms Trump, who was born in Slovenia, revealed to the world changes she had made to the iconic garden, which is sometimes used for presidential speeches and has remained relatively unchanged since the 1960s, when John F. Kennedy occupied the White House.
Images of the lawn showed a dozen trees planted for the 32nd president of the United States have been removed. His vibrant array of plants and flowers was also scrapped.
“It is a destruction of our history, something no other First Lady would have had the gall to do,” Mr Eichenwald tweeted in response to the changes. “This is the first time I have been furious that @FLOTUS is a foreigner. She has no right to wreck our history,” he added.
Ms Trump had been widely criticised for the changes she made to the garden, but a host of prominent US media figures took issue with the tone of Mr Eichenwald’s attack.
Among those critics was Mehdi Hasan, a senior columnist at The Intercept and a host on the Al Jazeera network, who called on Mr Eichenwald to apologise. “This is a horrible anti-immigrant take, Kurt, and you should delete it and apologize,” Mr Hasan wrote on Twitter.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper said: “Agree…this is xenophobic and wrong. It’s bigotry.”
Mr Eichenwald later removed the offending tweets and apologised.”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.”
Ms Trump unveiled the changes on Saturday after the end of three weeks of landscaping work. The White House had announced in July that Ms Trump had planned “significant renewal” of the iconic garden.
“The changes… are the result of a thoughtful and collaborative process carefully crafted with the help of scholars and experts in architecture, horticulture, design, and historic preservation,” Ms Trump said after unveiling the trimmed down garden.
“We celebrate this garden in the hope that future generations will not only enjoy – but also draw inspiration and strength – from this space where so much of our history has been shared.”
Among other critics of Ms Trump’s redesign was the Republican-leaning commentator Meghan McCain, daughter of the late senator, John. “I normally think Melania has impeccable taste,” Ms Cain wrote on a message on Twitter. “…But removing Jackie O’s rose garden and all the beautiful flowers and colour for whatever reason I find really upsetting, not to mention not nearly as beautiful.”
Ms Trump had already come under fire for choosing to renovate the garden during a global pandemic. Coronavirus continues to surge in the US, with large numbers of new infections and deaths being reported across large swathes of the country, particularly the west and south, in states such as California and Florida.
“If this isn’t a Marie Antoinette moment I don’t know what is,” prominent black commentator Charles Blow wrote on Twitter in response to Ms Trump’s changes. “Who cares about a redesigned rose garden when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, 175,000-plus people are dead and millions are out of work?”
The iconic Rose Garden will be the backdrop for some of the speeches coming from this year’s Republican national convention. The event will kick off on Monday, with speeches from Donald Trump Jr and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Ms Trump will start proceeding on Tuesday with a speech from the rose garden. After accepting the Republican nomination on Thursday, the president will also delivery remarks from the garden.
The president has been criticised for using the grounds of the White House for what is a party political event