Review of Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

Jonathan Martin’s failure to appreciate the value of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury Inside the Trump White House does a disservice to public discourse. Distinction between “important” and “unimportant” –a hallmark of Alice and Wonderland–ought to be a cautionary requirement for reporters covering life and death issues. These are issues President Donald Trump regards with indifference.


Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House










If Wolff’s work were not (as it is) an excellent accomplishment, the book’s ability to get under President Trump’s skin would be a virtue in its own right. Fifty years from now, when a history of the 45th Presidency is written, the text of the President’s press conference at a chilly airplane hanger at Camp David, Maryland will appear in the moral equivalent of bold face. There the President of the United States announced he is “very smart” and lamented—in shocking indifference to the First Amendment—that our country’s libel laws are not strong enough to prevent publication of Fire and Fury.

It is axiomatic that the best defense for libel is the truth. I am prepared to accept the judgment of New York Times reporter Maggie Hagerman that regarding the big picture, Wolff has presented us with an accurate account. The two areas where the book has been subject to criticism are first, that Wolff’s account is nothing new. “We knew that already.” Second that Wolff is sloppy on the details.


The lamentable book review in The New York Times.





Martin complains that a reporter cited as having breakfast at the Four Seasons breakfasted elsewhere. Or, as Martin identifies as a serious flaw, “Wolff offers several ‘whys-and-hows’ of this imbecile meeting. [The June 11, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower at which Donald Trump Jr. welcomed dirt on Hilary Clinton.] But he does not settle on any of them.”

This is an unfair criticism. All that should be required of Wolff is that he give an accurate account of the lunatic meeting—a meeting which includes the President’s explanation that it was held out of concern for Russian orphans. If Wolff had settled on an explanation, Martin would have criticized him for overreach.

Wolff told Meet the Press that when given his unusual access to the White House, he approached the task with an open mind. He explained his account was an effort to provide readers with the view he obtained from sitting on a coach in the West Wing and describing what the President’s advisers told him. Wolff said had his reporting resulted in finding out that despite accounts contrary to expectations, Donald Trump really was doing a good job, he would have said so.



Here is one of Wolff’s virtues which Martin decries. Martin makes a point of describing Wolff as a political ingenue. In this regard, I share Martin’s surprise. By comparison, I have been steeped in politics for my entire adult life. Instead of Wolff, had I occupied the same coach in calendar year 2017 after following in detail Trump’s role as the leader of the birther movement and of his campaign, my mind would have been closed to anything but an account of Trump’s failure. Wolff’s naivete is a major factor in the book’s virtue.

This is what Fire and Fury reported. When Donald Trump ran for President, his goal was to use that platform to make a lot of money. He had no intention of winning. Melania Trump’s tears on election night at the tragedy (as she saw it) that now she would have to deal with the disappointment of being First Lady was echoed by her husband and his closest associates. Winning was losing.

Unwanted was the decision Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner made to move to Washington and be by Trump’ side compounding the President’s problem of having the President’s closest advisers be ones without experience or aptitude for governing. Steve Bannon unexpectedly emerges from the account at least as someone—albeit Evil—capable of serious thought and the capacity to get things done.

The President emerges as one who has no knowledge of nor interest in the Constitution, who is unwilling to read briefing memos, who relies on unreliable instinct, and whose decision-making capacity is often determined by the most recent person to enter his office. The President is afraid of being poisoned and began his tenure in office by fighting with the Secret Service because he wanted to install a lock on the inside of his bedroom door. Trump is happiest when he goes to bed in the evening at 6:30 eating McDonald cheese burgers, drinking a Diet Coke, and watching television on three sets.

The President is incapable of attracting talented advisers and the most capable members of his staff regard him with contempt. Secretary of State Tillerson’s comment that the President is a moron followed a meeting on nuclear weapons where regardless of their strategic value, the President wanted more and newer weapons. Not a day goes by in the Trump White House, Wolff told Meet the Press, where Section 4 of the 25th Amendment is not invoked as in “This incident came close to a 25th Amendment moment.”

The book is well-written to the point of being difficult to put down. Certainly, the majority leader of the Senate and the Speaker of the House were uncomfortably aware of its validity when they appeared at the Camp David press conference where Trump reported that he received good grades in college. Publication of Fire and Fury—especially in excerpts in The Guardian and New York Magazine—mark a Rubicon-like moment in the Trump Presidency. Henceforth, neither Trump’s Washington supporters nor detractors will be able to ignore reality.

I do understand the discomfiture at the New York Times that Michael Wolff, a journalistic parvenu, was able to produce a vade mecum. Envy has not been denied me either. My first trade book (an extended version of a New York Times Magazine article) published by the same company that publishes Fire and Fury did not earn enough to repay the advance. The sophisticates at the New York Times—careful with their citations—are experiencing frustrated Schadenfreude.

It is useful to recall that it was not the Washington White House press corps that nailed Richard Nixon on Watergate. Rather, it was two reporters covering the police beat who scooped the sophisticates at the other side of town. No doubt, the New York Times is an excellent institution deserving of its reputation for being our country’s newspaper of record. Here humility is due. Michael Wolff’s book deserves to receive a Pulitzer Prize.






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