A history of courting controversy

Instagram posts by his new wife, actress Louise Linton, have turned up the heat on US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has hitherto managed to stay under the radar. Straits Times US correspondent Paul Zach takes a closer look at the Washington power couple.

Even before posting an Instagram photo flaunting the designer clothes she was wearing while leaving a United States government jet she and her husband reportedly used for a personal trip - and following up by belittling a woman who called her out for it - actress Louise Linton had courted controversy.

In a Town & Country magazine interview given while she was preparing for her June 24 wedding to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin - her second, his third - she described in detail the wealth of jewels she planned to wear. Showing off her gold diamond cluster earrings, she said: "I can imagine them on Eva Marie Saint or Ava Gardner or Lauren Bacall."

Although Linton is an actress, her credits hardly put her among such Hollywood royalty: She has had mostly small parts in movies like Cabin Fever and Rules Don't Apply and episodes of TV shows such as Cold Case and CSI:NY. In the latter, critics were quick to point out that she played a woman who dressed up as Marie Antoinette, the French queen said to have uttered "let them eat cake" when told her country's people were starving in the streets.

The comparison came after a woman from Portland, Oregon, Ms Jenni Miller, was so appalled by Linton's recent Instagram post that she responded she was "glad" American taxpayers could pay for her and her husband's "little getaway". In a lengthy riposte, Linton blasted the mother of three. "I'm pretty sure we paid more taxes towards our day 'trip' than you did," she said. "You're adorably out of touch... Your kids look cute... your life looks cute", and on and on.

Although Linton has since apologised for what she called her "highly insensitive" words and the couple reportedly reimbursed the government for the travel costs, the damage was done. Adding further insult to injury was a report last Friday that the couple had watched the recent solar eclipse from the lawn of Fort Knox, where the nation's gold is stored.

Born into a wealthy family near Edinburgh, Scotland, Linton, 36, has led a fairy-tale life. She grew up spending weekends in the family's Melville Castle. After graduating from Pepperdine University with a journalism degree and the University of West Los Angeles School of Law, she took up acting. She reportedly met Mr Mnuchin, while he was still a Hollywood producer, through friends.

Her first claim to infamy came just last year, when she published In Congo's Shadow, a book about her experiences as a volunteer in Zambia when she was 18. In it, she describes herself as a "skinny white muzungu (white person) with long angel hair" who went there "with hopes of helping some of the world's poorest people" but found herself fleeing Congolese rebels for fear of being raped and killed in a country she described as "savage".

Reaction in Zambia was relentless, spawning a Twitter hashtag #LintonLies. Some accused her of having a "white saviour complex" and labelled her book "complete fiction", even calling her out on her descriptions of "the dense jungle canopy above me" - Zambia has savanna grasslands.

One Twitter user summed up the outrage: "The only thing missing from the @LouiseLinton story is Tarzan and Mowgli."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'A history of courting controversy'. Print Edition | Subscribe