The Gorilla Channel, the Wolff, and the Sheep: How Reliable Is the New Anti-Trump Book?

By John Zmirak Published on January 5, 2018

Liberals and other avowed enemies of Donald Trump are pretty darn eager to believe the worst of the president. Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s new “tell-all” book on the Trump White House has made that clear. They’ll scoop up any nuggets of dirt, however implausible or poorly sourced.

The best moment so far came when a humorist going by the handle “Pixellated Boat” released an excerpt from the Wolff book on Twitter. (The Tweet below came later, adding the disclaimer, since so many people were fooled.)

Of course, it was a parody. But that didn’t stop gleeful liberals from re-Tweeting it as “proof” of what they’ve believed all along: That President Trump is a doofus. He’s Homer Simpson in a $6,000 suit, with his sticky fingers hovering right over the nuclear “button.”

Beyond The Gorilla Channel

What’s really in Wolff’s book is also somewhat dubious, many say. Business Insider pointed to a disclaimer right in the Prologue of the book itself:

“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. These 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 the accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”

The book itself, reviewed by Business Insider from a copy acquired prior to its Friday publication, is not always clear about what level of confidence the author has in any particular assertion.

Lengthy, private conversations are reported verbatim, as are difficult-to-ascertain details like what somebody was thinking or how the person felt.

Claims … include assertions that Trump never wanted to be president, that all of his senior staff considered him an idiot, that he tried to lock the Secret Service out of his room, and that he ate at McDonald’s to avoid being poisoned.

In other words, Wolff is saying, “Look, I’ve printed a bunch of juicy gossip and backbiting by self-interested sources, and I can’t be bothered to sort out what is true. Enjoy!”

Dubious Methods?

The Washington Post raised a point of skepticism about Wolff’s methods:

Author Michael Wolff bolstered President Trump’s effort to discredit the new book “Fire and Fury” on Friday when he acknowledged in a “Today” show interview that he had been willing to say whatever was “necessary” to gain access at the White House.

Wolff’s admission does not directly undermine the veracity of his reporting, but it creates the appearance that he might have approached some members of the president’s team under false pretenses, leading sources to believe that when they opened up they were speaking to a sympathetic ear. That’s a bad look — one which the White House can use to impugn Wolff’s integrity and, perhaps unfairly, cast doubt on whichever elements of his work the president doesn’t like.

Bannon’s Kamikaze Attack

Of course, you already know that President Trump, his son Eric, and other White House sources have dismissed ex-Trump strategist Steve Bannon’s explosive, insulting assertions about the President. As the Columbia Journalism Review notes:

The book has already caused Trump to publicly disavow his former adviser, Breitbart News Chairman Steve Bannon, the man whom many assume was a key source for Wolff’s book. “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” the president said in a statement. Trump went on to say that Bannon “only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”

The blowback against Bannon has been severe. At least one candidate who’d joined Bannon’s planned GOP primary insurgency is backing away from him. His long-time financial backer Rebekah Mercer has cut all ties with Bannon. CNN and The Wall Street Journal each reported that the board of Breitbart itself is debating whether to fire Bannon as chairman of that media group.

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As a longtime defender of Bannon myself, I can’t see a way to justify Bannon making very damaging statements to a liberal reporter way back in August, then continuing for months to claim the banner of “true believer” in Trump and his presidency. That’s just seedy.

Tony Blair: “Complete Fabrication”

Other denials are coming thick and fast. Newsweek reports:

President Donald Trump and his circle aren’t the only officials calling parts of Michael Wolff’s new book on the early days of his administration fake news.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday said a story involving him in the book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, to be released Friday, is “a complete fabrication, literally from beginning to end.”

Wolff’s book claims that Blair met in secret with Trump’s son-in-law and now White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and warned it was possible that British intelligence spied on Trump campaign staff, “monitoring its telephone calls and other communications and possibly even Trump himself.” The book also resurrects speculations that Blair was angling to be a Middle East envoy for Trump.

No, I Never Said Anything Like That

Fortune Magazine just ran a story fact-checking Wolff’s quotes attributed to longtime Trump business ally Tom Barrack. Fortune writer Shawn Tully reported:

I spoke to Barrack — the billionaire chairman of real estate firm ColonyNorthStar — on Thursday morning, and he was outraged. “I never gave Wolff an interview, or any quote,” Barrack told me. “I don’t talk like that. Wolff texted me repeatedly, eight or nine times asking for an interview, and I always said I was busy, or can’t do it.” Barrack further states that he never said anything, to anybody that could have filtered back to Wolff as “he’s not just crazy, he’s stupid.”

What bothers Barrack most is that, he says, Wolff never called him to check his facts. “What’s amazing is that…he had my phone number, but didn’t call to run the quote by me,” Barrack said. “How can you report that some person allegedly heard this and not call to ask, ‘Did you really say it?’”

If the Barrack quote is representative of the other assertions in Wolff’s book, it seems that its damning narrative of the Trump presidency will die the death of a thousand cuts.

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