Michael Wolff’s latest piece of alleged non-fiction, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” has become the talk of the town among avid politicos and news junkies.
However, the truth is that it is little more than the work of a charlatan and a signal of the unfortunate pervasiveness of partisanship in today’s political culture.
While most of the book’s anecdotes are captivating and engrossing, many of them are completely unsubstantiated. Take, for instance, the claim that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Trump that British intelligence services might be spying on him. This is a claim that on its own merits sounds absurd and one that the prime minister has denied.
This is far from the only problematic anecdote, and many respected journalists, such as Maggie Haberman, Jake Tapper and Jonathan Martin, have raised issues with Wolff’s credibility and the details in his book.
Wolff himself, in what was either an unintentional confession or an admission of his view of the gullibility of consumers, revealed that readers should approach the question of the validity of the book’s anecdotes using the standard, “If it rings true, it is true.” That is not a professional journalistic ethical standard; that’s the standard of a hack and a con artist.
Then there’s the more recent episode, in which Wolff seemed to insinuate on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Jan. 19 that the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is having an affair with Trump to advance her political career. Clarifying that he does not possess the “ultimate proof,” Wolff told readers to “read between the lines … Toward the end of the book.” Most have concluded that the allusion is to Haley, who the book notes had been spending a large amount of time in the private company of the president aboard Air Force One. Such an unfounded, malicious and ostensibly sexist attack should be met with severe, swift and universal condemnation.
And yet, while some responsible journalists and outlets have approached the book and its author with a healthy and necessary level of skepticism, much of the media and popular culture have not.
Look no further than the recent Grammy Awards, where various artists and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton read excerpts from the book as they “auditioned” to be the audio narrator. The sketch was met with approval from the award show audience and many journalists, but Ambassador Haley, the subject of Wolff’s most malicious lie, understandably took issue with it. Why would any institution – be it a news publication or an awards show – want to legitimize this shoddy piece of journalism?
What makes this episode all the more baffling is that the Grammy’s featured a powerful performance to highlight attendees’ solidarity with victims of sexual harassment and assault as well as the broader #MeToo movement. How can it reconcile supporting a movement founded on women’s empowerment while legitimizing an author who attacked the character of one of this country’s most high-profile women in power?
The answer to that question is simple – partisanship. To the Left, this book is not a highly questionable account fraught with lies and distortions but merely a tool in its political arsenal used to further discredit the president.
Much like the president and his most ardent supporters go to extreme and absurd lengths to deny facts that harm his image, many on the Left have either willfully or unknowingly bought “Fire and Fury” stories as truth precisely because its portrayal of the president and his staff is unflattering and conforms to their presuppositions and political narrative. As long as it confirms one’s most fantastical suspicions, the source’s validity matters little.
Simply put, “Fire and Fury” is to the Left what Breitbart and Sean Hannity are to the Right.
None of this is to suggest that the Trump White House is a model of workplace efficiency and functionality, nor is it a defense of the president’s conduct in office. The book’s wider premise – that the White House is in disarray and dominated by an emotionally and temperamentally erratic president – is not even credibly contested.
That fact makes this discredited and salacious book all the more perplexing. It actually, in effect, helps lend credence to those who would argue that popular culture is reflexively anti-Trump and thus that their criticisms and assertions should be approached with extreme skepticism. Wolff has given the president and his supporters useful ammunition in their pursuit against “fake news.”
Jonathan Godoy is a graduate student in the University of Miami MPA program.
Featured photo is a screenshot from Amazon.