The Take-Down Of Michael Wolff… More Or Less Or A Lot Less

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As some of you may have heard, there’s a little book that just came out detailing the inner workings of the Trump administration in the White House. It’s creating quite a stir in the news cycle. And as expected, the right-wing press is going after Michael Wolff, the author of the book, in a big way. One such site is the Washington Times. They are working to discredit the book by discrediting the author. Before I go on, I must say right up front I’ve had many issues with the accuracy of the Washington Times on several occasions. But I’m putting that aside because accuracy must win the day, no matter which side it sits on.

“Michael Wolff’s spotty record raises questions about Trump tell-all” reads the headline.

The article introduces Wolff:

“A caustic gossip columnist more accustomed to taking down New York media moguls than Washington politicians [Mr. Trump is now a politician, good to know], Mr. Wolff trained his fire on President Trump and his inner circle in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” an incendiary tell-all that has the president and his supporters fuming…

Mr. Wolff’s witty, provocative style has earned him accolades over the years — as well as criticism and controversy.

But his critics contend that he has a tendency to play fast and loose with the truth.”

Let’s look at the evidence, according to the WT that Wolff has a spotty record. First:

“When current and former members of the Trump administration came forward to dispute the version of events presented in the book — or even quotes attributed to them — Mr. Wolff said he has dozens of hours of audio recordings to back up his assertions.

The now-defunct website Brill’s Content reported in 1998 that more than a dozen people said Mr. Wolff embellished or outright invented quotes attributed to them in his 1998 book about Silicon Valley, “Burn Rate: How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet.””

To prove a case, one needs to present the evidence to support the claim. Does the WT do this? No. They only provide a link that links back to their own website without providing the necessary evidence supporting the claim.

Lucky for us, there is this magical thing called the “internetz” where you can find all sorts of information about stuff, including the topic at hand. Here is the issue in a nut shell. Michael Wolff started a dot-com in the mid 90’s called Wolff News Media. It failed after a few years, and Wolff wrote a book about it. I happened to find, thanks to the internetz, the actual article from Brill’s Content. Brill does lay out a convincing case that Mr. Wolff seemed to have taken liberties in his book. Wolff apparently took liberties in combining negative traits of three AOL execs into one person. The character was apparently a “composite.” Others say Wolff got quotes wrong or made them up. The Brill’s Content article further notes:

“Wolff, who founded and ran Wolff New Media, and is now a columnist for New York magazine and The Industry Standard, says, “In addition to being a book about my life, it is a very well-reported book.”

But seven of the main characters and six others portrayed in-or familiar with-events in the book, disagree. They say Wolff invented or changed quotes. And none of those quoted recalls Wolff taking notes or recording the discussions, some of which took place three years ago.

Six of the thirteen refused to speak for attribution. Three main characters-Thatcher; David Hayden, who appears as the CEO of the McKinley Group, a software firm (and who has since left), and Tom Feegel, former technical director of Wolff New Media-spoke to Brill’s Content on the record. A venture capitalist, who appears anonymously throughout the book, spoke to us but would not allow us to use his name. The minor characters who spoke on the record are Goff and journalist Gary Brickman. Another person, who says he is the unnamed Wolff New Media executive vice-president in the book, spoke to us but would not allow his name to be used. Jonathan Bellack, a former Wolff New Media employee, who also spoke to us, does not appear in the book but says he witnessed events the book describes.

Wolff says he has notes and e-mail that back him up, but refuses to release them. “I’m sure people are very surprised to see these meetings come back to life,” he says. “But that’s good writing. That may be great writing.”

In the Brill’s Content article, Wolff says “I’m sure people are very surprised to see these meetings come back to life … But that’s good writing. That may be great writing.” Though Wolff claims to have had notes of conversations in question, he indeed seems seems to have never released them. Wolf’s response to Brill’s accusations??? Why, attack Brill of course! Wolff evades the topic at hand.

Though remembering what specifically what one has said in specific meetings over the course of years my be impossible, and those who are misquoted may also be in error, the onus is for Wolff to provide the records to show how accurate his quotes were. He failed.

Seeing as much of the controversy surrounding new book about the Trump administration seems to concern quotes, accuracy here is important. Wolff claims he has dozens of hours of recordings. If he doesn’t produce them,he will have a problem.

The WT continues:

Several details in Mr. Wolff’s account already have been revealed to be highly unlikely, as Washington insiders have been quick to point out.

One “Washington insider” appears to be New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. She notes in a CNN interview:

“I believe parts of it. And then there are other parts that are factually wrong. I mean the thing about Michael Wolff and his style, which apparently nobody in the White House appears to have done a cursory Google search on him and sort of what his M.O. is, but he believes in larger truths and narratives. So he creates a narrative that is notionally true, that’s conceptually true. The details are often wrong. And I can — I can see several places in the book that are wrong.”

When asked for details, she says:

“…he in accurately describes a report in “The New York Times.” He inaccurately characterizes a couple of incidents that took place early on in the administration. He gets basic details wrong.”

Those inaccuracies are listed as CNN reporting the substance of the Trump Dossier, which they didn’t, and misquotes Robert Murdoch.

So far, if you look at these inconsistencies, do you dismiss the whole of the book?

There are parts of the WT critique that don’t hold up. For instance:

“Writing in the pages of The New Republic in 2004, Michelle Cottle took Mr. Wolff to task for exploiting artistic license in his writing…

Mr. Wolff himself admitted to as much in the introduction to “Fire and Fury.”

“Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue,” he wrote. “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.”

The WT is playing with words here. Wolff is not saying that he’s taken “artistic license”, he’s saying that different people within the administration themselves have differing accounts of events. One only needs to track many of the instances where the administration has produced three or four official statements before settling on the one that best suits the narrative. The firing of James Comey is a perfect example. That story has changed so much, I’m still not sure which version of events leading up to that is the “official” one.

“The author [Wolff] claims that Mr. Trump did not know who former House speaker John Boehner was when former Fox News honcho Roger Ailes suggested him as a potential chief of staff.”

But Trump himself has indeed said things like this many times. Remember he had no idea who David Duke was or anything about his views, even though there was an interview with Larry King from a couple of years prior that has Trump talking about Duke and his “theories.” And then there is the infamous “pussy-grabbing” video clip. First Trump embraces his words in the video as “locker room talk”, but the, a year later, he says the video is “fake”. Trump even claims not to have ever met Wolff. But Wolff interviewed Trump for the Hollywood Reporter during the campaign. And note that they seemed to get along well enough.

And don’t forget the speech Trump gave while visiting Florida and says that “Melania really wanted to be with us. It’s really touched her heart what’s gone on.”… And she’s standing right beside him.

So maybe it’s not out of the question that Trump forgot who Boehner is. Which is the problem with trying to criticize Wolff and his book, or the critique of it for that matter. When it comes to the Trump administration, there are so many oddities that it truly is difficult to find out what is true or not.

I will point out though that Wolff’s description of Trumps demeanor and complete disinterest in researching and reading, the incredibly short attention span, and the accusation that no one expected Trump would win are not new to the world. During the campaign in 2016, “Art Of The Deal” Tony Schwartz and former Trump strategist Stephanie Cegielski, in separate articles, are already on record saying the same things.

Meanwhile, news is breaking that the former counsel to the President Steve Bannon, who is featured throughout the new book, was about to issue a statement attacking Wolff’s book as a “left wing hatchet job.” But since the President attacked him, he’s letting this all play out.