Review: ‘Fire and Fury’ in the Trump White House

The author writes as if he were the omniscient narrator of a novel, offering up assertions that are provocative but often conjectural. Barton Swaim reviews ‘Fire and Fury’ by Michael Wolff.

Inside the Trump White House” is thus in a class with Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”—by itself a forgettable book, certainly not Mr. Rushdie’s best, but remembered forever as having provoked a death sentence from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

.. Mr. Wolff is known in New York and Hollywood for his withering takedowns of popular public figures; he was only ever going to write one kind of book.
.. “Fire and Fury” is a typical piece of “access journalism,”
.. Mr. Wolff takes the genre to another level, and perhaps a lower level. If he has employed objective criteria for deciding what to include or exclude, it’s not clear what those criteria are. By the looks of it, he included any story, so long as it was juicy.

.. “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House,” Mr. Wolff writes, “are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book. Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances I have, through a consistency in accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”

.. what to do when two sources make contradictory claims. A responsible reporter, or one more scrupulous than Mr. Wolff, would seek out corroborating evidence or do more research. Mr. Wolff simply “settles” on his preferred version.
.. Mr. Wolff often writes as if he were the omniscient narrator of a novel.
..  “Sessions was certainly not going to risk his job over the silly Russia business, with its growing collection of slapstick Trump figures. God knows what those characters were up to—nothing good, everybody assumed. Best to have nothing to do with it.”
..  It seems unlikely that Mr. Wolff interviewed Mr. Sessions, and unlikelier still that the attorney general told him any such thing about his own thoughts on recusal. How does Mr. Wolff know then?
.. Reporters, especially though not exclusively political reporters, are more interested in the meaning of facts than in the facts themselves. They’re concerned with interpretation rather than accuracy, with “narrative” rather than detail, with explaining rather than disclosing, with who’s happy or angry about a story rather than whether it’s true, with what’s likely to happen next week or next year rather than with what happened yesterday.

Shattered and the Irritating Consequences of Access Journalism

They agreed to hold all of the quotes, information, and anecdotes from their on-background conversations for the book, to be published long after Election Day. Clinton campaign staffers could vent and speak frankly about all of their serious problems hidden from the public eye, knowing that Allen and Parnes wouldn’t report it and the public wouldn’t know until after their decision had been made.

Except… this means a reporter for The Hill and a columnist for Roll Call knew that the media narrative was wrong, and didn’t tell anyone.

Killing The O’Reilly Factor

.. If you bring up somebody else’s kids in a debate — several times — you’re a bunch of words that the editors don’t want me to use in this newsletter. (Maybe I’ll turn it into an explicit-lyrics rap. “Call your guests a bunch of pinheads and dimwits, but what the f***’s wrong with you? Kids are off limits!”)

We don’t know if Bill O’Reilly really did treat his employees and coworkers as badly as those five women who settled lawsuits or accepted payouts alleged. But we do know that he had no problem being shamelessly obnoxious, insulting, gratuitously personal, and unfair to his regular guests on camera.