Trump Time Capsule #126: My Brush With History, and With Supermodel Vendela

In this photo from 1997, people identified as "Supermodels Vendela (L), Antonio Sabato, and Kathy Ireland" at a Superbowl promo.  (Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Today in Vanity Fair, its editor Graydon Carter, who in his Spy days with Kurt Andersen originated the idea of Donald Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian,” has a stinging essay about Trump as the modern incarnation of The Ugly American.

A central episode in this story involves the White House Correspondents Association dinner in 1993. Carter says that to its table Vanity Fair had invited, among others, Donald Trump as “novelty guest,” and Vendela Kirsebom, a Swedish woman then generally known as “Supermodel Vendela.” Over to Carter:

I sat Trump beside Vendela, thinking that she would get a kick out of him. This was not the case. After 45 minutes she came over to my table, almost in tears, and pleaded with me to move her. It seems that Trump had spent his entire time with her assaying the “tits” and legs of the other female guests and asking how they measured up to those of other women, including his wife. “He is,” she told me, in words that seemed familiar, “the most vulgar man I have ever met.”

OK, that’s part of the story. Here’s the rest, which explains something I have wondered about lo these past 23 years:

Back in 1993, The Atlantic had not really gotten into the “inviting celebrities and oddballs” practice that has become standard for the White House Correspondents dinner. Nor have we since then! Come to us for policy discussions with your standard assistant-secretary-for-planning. And at the time I was still just gathering bile for my version of correspondents dinner delenda est about the annual spectacles in my book Breaking the News, which came out three years later.

So there I was in 1993, talking policy with someone at our table, when I turned to my right and saw—Supermodel Vendela!  I knew who she was because, among other things, she had been the actual cover model for the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue three months before. And now she had appeared out of nowhere to be sitting at The Atlantic’s table!

At the time, I attributed this to the magazine’s trademark combination of serious “breaking ideas” coverage and pop-culture flair. Those Scandinavians! Even the supermodels were in-depth readers and couldn’t resist.

But now I learn that I have had Donald Trump to thank all along. In fleeing the table of “the most vulgar man I’ve ever met,” Supermodel Vendela had ended up with … me!

I don’t know whether this makes me feel better, or worse. Actually I do: worse. Until today I had thought that I had only one reason to feel grateful to Donald Trump: for his creation of The Apprentice, which allowed me to do an Atlantic piece about its Chinese knock-off version Win in China! Now it turns out I have another. I’ll never forget that evening’s conversation about Scandinavia’s lessons on improving American health care. And it never would have happened without Donald Trump.