The Media Today

The media today: The ‘fire’ surrounding Michael Wolff’s explosive account becomes an inferno

January 5, 2018

If there’s ever been a better sales pitch, I can’t think of one. This morning, Americans around the nation can head to their local brick-and-mortar to purchase the book the President of the United States doesn’t want you to read. Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury has dominated conversation this week, with two new excerpts published yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter and the British edition of GQ only fueling the anticipation. In response to the attention, publisher Henry Holt and Co. has chosen to ignore a cease and desist letter from the White House, and has pushed the book’s publication date forward from next Tuesday.

Though much of the focus has been on the rift between Trump and his former consigliere Steve Bannon, the excerpts published to date paint a broad picture of a White House in chaos and a president viewed by those close to him as unfit for office. Wolff’s narrative depicts Trump as a man with a volatile temper, obsessed with media coverage of himself, and possessing an inability to digest written briefings. “He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, ‘like a child,’” Wolff writes.

ICYMI: The subject of a news site’s seven-month investigation commits suicide

Trump dismissed the book as “full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist,” but no one denies that Wolff enjoyed significant access to the West Wing over several months in 2017. On NBC’s Today, Wolff defended his reporting, telling Savannah Guthrie he had spoken to the president since the inauguration. “Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record,” Wolff said. “I have recordings, I have notes. I am certainly, absolutely, in every way, comfortable with everything I’ve reported in this book.

While Wolff’s reputation for stretching the truth has raised red flags, several journalists have come to his defense. The Tow Center’s Emily Bell crystallized the conflict that many are feeling, tweeting: “dilemma of the Wolff book for journalism commentators: those who said press should break the rules, not normalize Trump, call it what it is etc., did not anticipate the most effective route to that would be by pulling off the most audacious act of access journalism of all time.”

ICYMI: The most recent Trump bombshell, and a stunning revelation about Melania

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It’s hard to overstate the commotion Wolff’s book has caused in political circles. From dirty laundry aired in gossipy asides to serious questions about the president’s mental state to journalistic ethics debates about the author’s methods and credibility, Fire and Fury continues to drive—to steal a phrase newly relevant to those of us on the East Coast—a bomb cyclone of coverage. This morning, Axios’s Mike Allen presents a concise summation of the current situation: “There are definitely parts of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury that are wrong, sloppy, or betray off-the-record confidence. But there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book’s scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.”

Below, more on Wolff, Trump, and the fallout from an explosive account.


Other notable stories

  • In a front-page exclusive, The New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt has new reporting on Robert Mueller’s probe into whether President Trump committed obstruction of justice.
  • Peter Thiel, the Trump-supporting billionaire venture capitalist who took down Gawker, is exploring the possibility of creating a new conservative cable news network, according to BuzzFeed News’s Ryan Mac and Steven Perlberg. Thiel reportedly talked with the late Roger Ailes and the Mercer family about his plans.
  • BuzzFeed’s new White House correspondent is Tarini Parti, reports BI’s Maxwell Tani. Parti takes over a role previously filled by Adrian Carrasquillo, who was fired last month for sending an “inappropriate message” to a colleague.
  • After 30 years as the host of NPR’s All Things Considered, Robert Siegel is stepping down. His last show is today.
  • CJR’s Meg Dalton has a good piece exploring the process and aftermath of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting’s story on a state rep’s past, including how they dealt with the subject’s suicide.
  • At Sunday’s Golden Globes, The New York Times will take a new approach to covering the red carpet. Styles editor Choire Sicha writes, “Now that the curtain is finally being lifted on some of the grimy underbelly of Hollywood, we feel it’s more important than ever to not treat awards shows as silly things for silly people.

 ICYMI: The myth of journalistic betrayal

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.