Melania Trump last year. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

For several years now, news organizations have struggled to curtail the occasionally out-there statements of their impulsive reporters and editors on social media. Guidelines for social media usage have emerged; emails to newsrooms reminding those staffers of the guidelines are common after transgressions; and everyone argues about the offending tweets and the reaction of news bosses.

What happens, though, when a mainstream media reporter communicates something objectionable not on air, nor in the newspaper, nor on social media — but rather in a social context? With spoken words?

That’s apparently what went down Sunday at a New York Fashion Week event. According to the Twitter feed of model Emily Ratajkowski, an unnamed reporter for the New York Times allegedly slandered first lady Melania Trump:

New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Politico the following: “At a party last night, a Times reporter who does not cover Washington or politics, referred to an unfounded rumor regarding Melania Trump. The comment was not intended to be public, but it was nonetheless completely inappropriate and should not have occurred. Editors have talked to the reporter in question about the lapse.”

Where does this put the New York Times? Are private discussions now part of the newspaper’s guidelines? Not quite, according to New York Times associate managing editor for standards Phil Corbett. In an email to the Erik Wemple Blog, Corbett noted that “this was apparently said at an event with a lot of people around, so really not a private conversation. It’s not like we’re policing what people say to their spouses at the dinner table. The reporter realizes it was inappropriate.”

Inappropriate and dangerous: Trump and her lawyers have spent recent months pursuing defamation cases against a Maryland blogger as well as Britain’s Mail Media — owner of the Daily Mail — for reports that Trump had worked as an escort. Though the original Daily Mail piece included a denial of the false claim, her lawyers insist that the report has limited her business horizons at a time when she’d be “one of the most photographed women in the world.” A settlement was recently reached with the Maryland blogger.

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