Nina Burleigh

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Nina Burleigh
The author and journalist Nina Burleigh.jpg
EducationMasters in English (1987)
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
OccupationAuthor, journalist, adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University
Spouse(s)Erik Freeland

Nina D. Burleigh (born circa 1959-1960) is an American writer and journalist.[1] She is the author of multiple books, including Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt (2007), about the scholars who accompanied Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798; Unholy Business (2008), chronicling a Biblical archaeological forgery case and the Jerusalem relic trade. Her investigative journalism includes The Fatal Gift of Beauty (2011), on the wrongful imprisonment of American student Amanda Knox.[2] Formerly an adjunct professor at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Burleigh is strongly sympathetic to secular liberalism, and known for her interest in issues of women's rights. She wrote a column for The New York Observer called "The Bombshell".[3] As of January 2015 she writes for Newsweek as a National Politics Correspondent, and a guest lecturer at the University of Agder.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Her father is author Robert Burleigh.[6] Burleigh's family moved to the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco when she was seven. After a few months in San Francisco, they moved to Baghdad to live with Burleigh's maternal grandmother. Six months later the family moved to an Amish area of Michigan.[7] They always celebrated Christmas with Santa and a tree, Burleigh stated that her family had "rejected institutional religion" by the time she grew up in the 1970s. "No baptism, no family Bible recording the births, deaths and marriages. My grandfather actively despised churches."[8]

Her first publication was for a library in Elgin, Illinois, when she was in sixth grade.[9]


As of January 2015 she is the National Politics Correspondent for Newsweek.[10] "In college I thought I might go into fiction writing, but a professor of mine…suggested I could get paid as a journalism intern at the Illinois Statehouse, through a program called the Public Affairs Reporting Program. I got an internship at the Associated Press, and learned a lot about government and writing journalism there”.[7] Burleigh refers to her time as an intern as instrumental for learning "real reporting." [11] Burleigh covered the White House and Congress for People and Time in the 1990s.[12][13]

In the 2000s she was a staff writer at People magazine in New York, covering human interest stories nationally.[14] She was an adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University, wrote "The Bombshell" column for the New York Observer, and was a contributing editor to Elle. She is an occasional blogger at The Huffington Post.[15] She has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers, including Time magazine,[16] The New York Times,[17] The New Yorker,[18] and The Washington Post, as well as many websites such as,, AlterNet, Powell's[19] and[20]

Burleigh attributes her extensive range of journalistic topics by firsthand experience, instructive in maintaining an open outlook, describing a journey to the Mexico border where she witnessed migrants being located to shelters provided by an altruistic private benefactor. [11]

Women's issues[edit]

Burleigh has written extensively on feminism, issues of human trafficking,[21] domestic violence,[22] and double standards for violence against women,[23][24] American women and power and politics.[25][26][27] She coined the term "Baby Palins” to refer to the young right wing women who decry feminism while benefiting from its gains.[28][29] She has written that "misogyny is the last allowable taboo in our PC world".[30][31] She has also written on women and health care and reproductive law[32][33] as well as the issues and complications of adoption.[34][35][36]

Middle East[edit]

Burleigh has written about her visits to Iraq, her mother's country of birth, both as a child and later in life as a journalist.[37] She has also written about her maternal grandmother's escape from the Assyrian genocide during World War I in the context of present-day refugee crises.[38] Burleigh worked in the Middle East for many years, including covering the politics of the Israeli settlements for Time Magazine, the emerging effect of Islamists on women in the wake of the Arab Spring for Slate and Time, and the politics and science of Biblical archaeology in Israel for her book Unholy Business and for the Los Angeles Times.[39][40]

Biblical archaeology[edit]

Burleigh spent several years working on a book about Biblical archaeology and forgery in Israel. The Wall Street Journal said, “Burleigh uses the story of the James Ossuary to trace the eccentric and sometimes dodgy characters who buy, trade and deal in antiquities. But it is also a springboard for her larger meditation on the field of biblical archaeology. In the 19th century, when the discipline emerged, practitioners saw themselves as both religious pilgrims and serious scholars, perceiving no potential for conflict in their desire to prove the historicity of the Bible. It has only been in recent decades that biblical archaeology truly widened its scope and began to focus not only on the Bible but on the larger world in which biblical events unfolded.”[41]

She has written and lectured on the subject of Biblical archaeology both in her book and elsewhere, speaking on the topic at the Center for Inquiry,[42] in Los Angeles,[43] Washington, D.C., and New York,[44][45] as well as at the Oriental Institute[46] in Chicago and at Duke University’s Seminar on Biblical archaeology and the media.

Amanda Knox case and Italy[edit]

In June 2009 Burleigh and her family moved to the Italian city of Perugia, where Knox was being tried on a murder charge, to write a book. Burleigh initially intended the story to be an exploration of young women's experiences and media portrayal in the modern world.[47] Within a month Burleigh concluded that much of what was commonly believed about Knox was without foundation, and began to question whether she was in any way involved in the killing. The book strongly advocated the case for the by-then-convicted Knox's innocence, and became a NYT bestseller. Burleigh said she was in some ways uncomfortable with the degree of media concentration on the case, as there were miscarriages of justice affecting all communities.[48]

Burleigh has written extensively about many other aspects of travel and life in Italy, including Chinese immigration, mafia slave labor,[49] gelato school,[50] expatriates and the Gothic.[51]

Melania Trump[edit]

In January 2019 the Daily Telegraph was forced to apologize and pay "substantial damages" for publishing an article written by Burleigh titled “The Mystery of Melania” that the Telegraph admitted contained numerous falsehoods. “Trump often refers to opportunists out to advance themselves by disparaging her name and image," Stephanie Grisham, Trump's communications director, said in a statement to CNN. "She will not sit by as people and media outlets make up lies and false assertions in a race for ratings or to sell tabloid headlines."[52] Burleigh, however, stands by the article, which was actually an except from her 2018 book The Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women. “The book was published in October and has been widely excerpted and reported on in American publications . . . The book was lawyered for months in advance of publication,” Burleigh said. “Furthermore, the points they objected to include facts that have been previously reported by other writers." She also criticized the Telegraph for apologizing for “accurate reporting” and called the apology “regrettable,” when the Telegraph simply lacked the resources to back-check her reporting in the first lady’s home country of Slovenia.[53] On January 30th, 2019 Burleigh's lawyers threatened the Telegraph parent company TMG with a lawsuit:

In fact, it is TMG's Apology that is false. It appears that fear of Mrs Trump's lawyer Mr Harder, the "Gawker slayer", caused TMG to capitulate abjectly in the face of his letter without regard to normal journalistic principles, at the cost of Ms Burleigh's personal and professional reputation. In reality, the statements in the Article that Mrs Trump complained about were (1) well-sourced, (2) professionally fact checked before publication, (3) extensively reviewed by a lawyer retained by Gallery, (4) given proper and prudent caveats in the Article, and (5) benign. TMG had nothing to apologise for, and both the fact that it did so, and the particularly lurid way it abandoned the Article, have turned Ms Burleigh into an international poster girl for "fake news".[54]

Personal life[edit]

Burleigh speaking at CFI DC Voices of Reason, December 14, 2008

In 1999 she married Erik Freeland, a freelance photojournalist. They and their two children live in New York City.[55] When her son was a toddler, Burleigh thought it might be a good idea to expose her child to church. She picked out the most picturesque one she could find in her town and visited. She discovered that the inside was very beautiful with stained glass windows, but the programs she picked up changed her mind, they were "urging parishioners to contact their lawmakers about fetal rights, gay marriage and other favorite fundamentalist issues. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I gathered up the toddler, who was fascinated by the place and didn't want to leave, and scurried back into daylight."[8]

In a 1998 essay for Mirabella, Burleigh described an occasion aboard Air Force One when she noticed President Bill Clinton apparently looking at her legs. The piece led to her being described as "the Ally McBeal of former White House reporters" by columnist Ellen Goodman. During a subsequent interview with a Washington Post media reporter to discuss the Mirabella article, Burleigh offered to perform a sex act on then President Clinton, stating “I would be happy to give him a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”[56][57] Referring to the comment in a 2007 piece for The Huffington Post, Burleigh wrote, "I said it (back in 1998, but a good quote has eternal life) because I thought it was high time for someone to tweak the white, middle-aged beltway gang taking Clinton to task for sexual harassment. These men had neither the personal experience nor the credentials to know sexual harassment when they saw it, nor to give a good goddamn about it if they did. The insidious use of sexual harassment laws to bring down a president for his pro-female politics was the context in which I spoke."[58]


  • A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Mary Meyer (1998): about Mary Pinchot Meyer ISBN 978-0553380514
  • The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams and the Making of America's Greatest Museum ISBN 0-06-000241-7
  • Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt (2007) ISBN 978-0060597689 about Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. Selected by The New York Times as an editors' choice[59] and by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International for the 2008 Educator's Award.[60]
  • Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land (2008) ISBN 0061458457 about James Ossuary. Burleigh has lectured on Unholy Business at the Oriental Institute, Chicago.[61]
  • The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox (August 2011) ISBN 978-0307588593
  • Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump's Women (October 2018) ISBN 978-1501180200 Renamed as The Trump Women: Part of the Deal rereleased September 22, 2020


  1. ^ "Nina Burleigh." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2012. Biography In Context. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
  2. ^ Brady, Lois Smith (1999-04-25). "WEDDINGS: VOWS; Nina Burleigh and Erik Freeland". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2012-09-13). "Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf? Why Female Critics Are Piling On". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  4. ^ "About". Newsweek. Retrieved 20 June 2016.
  5. ^ "Nina Burleigh: The Holy Compromisers - "Fakes, Forgers, Con Men and Collectors"". Guest Lecturer. University of Agder. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  6. ^ Robert, Burleigh. "Robert Burleigh".
  7. ^ a b Redmond, Sean. "Unholy Business: Chicago-bred writer Nina Burleigh discusses her latest book, religion, and the ugly side of journalism". Chicago Weekly. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  8. ^ a b Burleigh, Nina (2005-12-24). "God and Christmas: Part Two". Huff Post. Retrieved 2012-09-20.
  9. ^ Rees, Matt. "The Elusive, Graceful future of Journalism: Nina Burleigh's Writing Life". Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  10. ^ "Authors". Newsweek. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  11. ^ a b Hicklin, Aaron. "Burleigh Being Burleigh". Dveight. Spring 2019 (12).
  12. ^ "Search Results for Nina Burleigh". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2012-09-22.
  13. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "Her Own Woman". People Magazine. Retrieved 2012-09-22.
  14. ^ Nina Burleigh - Nina Burleigh Official Web Site
  15. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2012-07-19). "The American Intelligence of Michele Bachmann". Huff Post. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  16. ^ Time Magazine - Article archive
  17. ^ "Nina Burleigh Search". New York Times. New York Times.
  18. ^ "Whistle-Blower". New Yorker. The New Yorker.
  19. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "Scholars in the Land of the Prophet". Powells. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  20. ^ "Israel's huge reward". Salon. 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  21. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2012-03-14). "With Piggy-Loving Madam Cooling Her Heels in Rikers, Will Her Clients Get Off? Ray Kelly's Operation Losing Proposition targets johns". New York Observer. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  22. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "A Hate Crime Against Women?". TIME. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  23. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2009-09-29). "Genius and Young Flesh". Huff Post. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  24. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "A High School Student's Nightmare: Dating Violence". People Weekly. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  25. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2011-06-07). "What If Weiner Was a Woman?". Huff Post. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  26. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2011-08-12). "The Best and the Rightest". Elle. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  27. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "Ink-Stained Wretch Dept., Profile of Jill Abramson". More. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  28. ^ Santos, Alexander. "'Baby Palins' Do Not Like Being Called 'Baby Palins'". National Journal. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  29. ^ Santos, Alexander (2011-08-31). "Baby Palins' Do Not Like Being Called 'Baby Palins'". The Atlantic Wire. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  30. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2011-04-08). "The Last Allowable Taboo". Huff Post. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  31. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2007-04-10). "Don Imus and the Rage of the Viagrans". Huff Post. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  32. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "Who Owns Your DNA?". More. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  33. ^ "In Dixie, Civil Rights for Zygotes". TIME. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  34. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2010-10-15). "The Race to Find Myself". Elle. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  35. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "A Dad's Adoption Nightmare". People. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  36. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2012-01-24). "I'm Not What's Best for my Baby". Elle. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  37. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "Scholars in the Land of the Prophet". Powell's Books. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  38. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2014-10-24). "Why I Lose All My Jewelry". The New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  39. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2012-03-25). "Faith, forgery, science -- and the James Ossuary". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  40. ^ "Israeli Settlers Versus the Palestinians". Time. 2009-07-27. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  41. ^ Marcus, Amy Dockser. "Ancient Objects, Dubious Claims 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus': The inscription caused a sensation. It was also new". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  42. ^ "Voices of Reason - Author Nina Burleigh: Unholy Business". Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  43. ^ "Biblical Archaeology, the Limits of Science and the Borders of Belief". Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  44. ^ "Meet the Author: Nina Burleigh". Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  45. ^ "Calendar of Program & Events". The Explorer's Club. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  46. ^ "Talking Forgery at the Oriental Institute". Oriental Institute. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  47. ^ JimZirinTV Video interview with Burleigh
  48. ^ NYT . 7, 20117, 2011 Between Journalist and Advocate: The Amanda Knox Case By KATE ZERNIKEOCT
  49. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2010-01-15). "African Immigrants in Italy: Slave Labor for the Mafia". TIME. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  50. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2009-11-09). "Gelato U." TIME. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  51. ^ Burleigh, Nina (2011-01-29). "In Berlusconi's Italy, sex, politics and Snooki". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  52. ^ Waterson, Jim (2019-01-26). "Telegraph apologises and pays damages to Melania Trump". The Guardian.
  53. ^ Phillips, Kristine. "British newspaper apologizes, agrees to pay damages for 'false statements' about Melania Trump". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  54. ^ McAllister Olivarius. "Telegraph Claim Letter". Nina Burleigh. Nina Burleigh. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  55. ^ "About the Author". Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  56. ^ " The quote: “I would be happy to give him a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.” Kurtz, Howard. "A Reporter with Lust in her Hearts", The Washington Post, July 6, 1998.
  57. ^ Burleigh, Nina.[1], New York Observer, July 20, 1998.
  58. ^ Burleigh, Nina. "Watching the Clintons for Love and Money in D.C.", The Huffington Post, December 1, 2007.
  59. ^ "Editor's Choice". The New York Times. 16 December 2007.
  60. ^ "Delta Gamma". Delta Kappa Gamma Society.
  61. ^ "Oriental Institute". YouTube Burleigh Lecture.

External links[edit]