Who is E. Jean Carroll? The writer and ex-Agony Aunt who brought down Donald Trump
“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen,” legendary journalist E. Jean Carroll told the jury on the first day of her groundbreaking civil trial against the former US President. “He lied and shattered my reputation. I’m here to try and get my life back.” A jury found he sexually abused her, but not that he raped her. Trump continues to deny he did anything wrong.
In April the former ELLE columnist describes her horrific attack in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-90s over a three day trial. “Well, it was such a funny New York scene,” Carroll told the Jury on meeting Trump. “I love to give advice and here was Donald Trump asking me for advice about buying a present.” The 79-year-old went on to explain that they soon wound up in the lingerie section where Trump told Carroll to try on a sheer gray bodysuit, to which she jokingly told him to try it on instead.
“I didn’t picture anything about what was about to happen,” she continued. “That open door has plagued me for years because I just walked into it. Just walked in.” Carroll then recounted how Trump allegedly pushed her against the wall and inserted his fingers and his penis inside her.
Having first come forward with the allegation in her 2019 book What Do We Need Men For? Trump started a vicious campaign against the author, accusing her of lying to boost sales of her memoir and that she was “a complete con job”. Later that year she was fired from her “Ask E. Jean” column at Elle that she had written for over 26 years, “because Trump ridiculed my reputation, laughed at my looks, & dragged me through the mud,” she tweeted at the time. (Elle has since maintained that the early termination of her contract had nothing to do with the allegation.)
Yesterday, the New York jury took only two hours to find Trump guilty of battery (but not rape) and defamation - awarding Carroll $5 million in damages. “I think that jurors just sat around and said how long do we need to sit here to make it look like there was something to consider and we considered it,” observed Kim Masters, editor at large at The Hollywood Reporter, of the unanimous decision.
The landmark ruling is the first time the property tycoon has been formally charged with sexual misconduct, despite 26 women coming forward with similar allegations over the years.
“Another triumph for morality. Even the GOP will reconsider if they want a sex offender as their frontrunner for 2024,” one social media user commented on the news. ”I applaud the fact that she fought, in spite of great odds and personal peril, against what has always been and truly continues to be an unvanquishable foe,” wrote another.
Trump did not attend the trial, but called the verdict a “disgrace” and posted, “I have absolutely no idea who this woman is,” on his Truth Social platform, despite the two having been photographed together at an NBC party in 1987.
“Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed,” Carroll wrote in a post-verdict statement. As Trump prepares for his 2024 presidential campaign, and with famously Republican-leaning platform CNN even being urged to cancel his town hall tonight, many are wondering whether Trump’s political career is finally over.
From Indiana beauty queen to published writer outgrowing her hometown
The esteemed writer was born in Detroit and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to inventor father Thomas F. Carroll Jr. and politician mother Betty Carroll. The oldest of four children, she was a passionate cheerleader and once even crowned Miss Indiana University beauty queen. However her heart has always been set on writing, and was only 12 when she started pitching stories to magazines.
She landed her breakthrough gig after college with a debut article in Esquire, which was a “witty literary quiz she concocted” about Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald.
It was all down to the journalist Marilyn Johnson (now a good friend of Carroll) who was an editorial assistant at Esquire at the time and handselected Carroll’s quiz out of the huge in tray of submissions. .
“That was pure luck,” Carroll said in an interview with Observer. “Otherwise I’d still be out there in Montana sending stuff to fucking Redbook or whatever. Ladies’ Home Journal. Wow.”
Thanks to her Esquire article, commissions soon started rolling in - including one to interview Fran Lebowitz for a cover article in Outside magazine in 1983. The gig brought her to New York city for the first time and before long she made the bold choice to relocate completely to Manhattan - leaving behind her then-husband Steve Byers.
“Of course, I went back for my dog,” she told Indianapolis Monthly at the time.
Life as a New York city ‘It’ girl
Carroll’s first apartment in the city was a basement on 26th Street. She used to sleep with a shotgun nearby. It didn’t take her long to integrate into the glitzy social scene, where she spent a lot of time in chic hangouts like Elaine’s. Here she met literary heavyweights Norman Mailer, Gay Talese and Hunter S. Thompson, the latter of whom she went on to write an imaginative gonzo biography of.
In fact, she was even described as the “feminism’s answer to Hunter S Thompson” by the New York Times thanks to her style of journalism. For example, she hiked across the Pacific island in search of a more “primitive” mate for Playboy (where she was the publication’s first female contributing editor) .
However her big break came from her infamous “Ask E. Jean” column that she wrote for Elle from 1993 to 2019. Through her many articles she helped women navigate the “choppy waters” of their work, social and sex lives, with the Chicago Tribune voting it one of the five best magazine columns in 2003.
“We all worshipped her,” said Katherine Rosman, an editor who worked at Elle in the 90s of “Ask E. Jean”. “She created this world in her column where you as a young woman could be focused on your career and becoming the woman that you wanted to be, and it wasn’t antithetical to also be boy crazy and also want to get married and also want to be pretty. She helped show a lot of people that those concepts were not mutually exclusive.”
It was so popular that in the 1990s, she went on to host her own cable television talk show based off of the column.
On finally getting the vindication she deserves
Although the news first broke in her bestselling memoir, Carroll told the court during the civil rape trial that she at first hadn’t intended to write about the alleged assault by Mr Trump.
She explained she took a “feminist road trip” across the United States in 2017 in search of answers to the question: “What do we need men for?” While on her travels, the sexual assault allegations against the disgraced filmmaker Harvey Weinstein broke during the initial wave of the MeToo movement which spurred her into action.
“I was not a pioneer, I am a follower,” she said during cross-examination on Thursday 27 April. “I saw other women coming forward after Harvey Weinstein and I thought, ‘who am I to stay silent’. Also I was 78 or 79, I had been silent for too long.”
When she first went public with her allegations in a New York magazine article ahead of her book launch, she filed a civil lawsuit against Trump - the then-President of the United States, who even enlisted the help of the Justice Department to defend him.
Not one to back down, last year, Ms Carroll filed a second lawsuit against Mr Trump under a New York law that allows sexual assault survivors a chance to bring civil suits after the statute of limitations has expired on alleged offences.
The new lawsuit accuses him of battery and defamation, based on his inflammatory insults, and is the basis of the trial that began on 25 April and wrapped yesterday afternoon.
In an essay for New York Magazine, she revealed that she never had sex again after her encounter with Mr Trump, her “last hideous man”. She also revealed why she did not come forward at the time: “Receiving death threats, being driven from my home, being dismissed, being dragged through the mud, and joining the 15 women who’ve come forward with credible stories about how the man grabbed, badgered, belittled, mauled, molested, and assaulted them, only to see the man turn it around, deny, threaten, and attack them, never sounded like much fun.”