Fire and Fury: Wolff's Gossip Tome No More than Smoke and Mirrors
The Fire and Fury tell-all tabloid currently flying off bookshelves is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, an illusion that relies upon the confirmation biases of President Donald Trump's most enduring critics. Muckraker Michael Wolff stands to become fabulously wealthy by simply rehashing the most salacious and unconfirmed rumors to dog the Republican outsider since he unexpectedly ascended to the White House one year ago.
Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes synonymous with the truth. "The 322 pages don't provide a lot of 'new' news," notes Los Angeles Times columnist Jackie Calmes, before arguing that "the picture of mayhem is mostly familiar to readers who have followed the daily reporting of White House correspondents."
In the case of the president's mental fitness, gossip gradually turned to gospel as Democrats recycled duplicitous allegations that should have died soon after Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein first advanced this narrative on the campaign trail.
"You know, I don't pretend to be able to do TV diagnosis," offered Stein, a Harvard-educated internist, before doing exactly that. "But I think the guy has a problem."
After the election, a third-party candidate's desperate plea for attention became a partisan plot embraced by the left as a precursor to a DNC Plan B: a psychiatric coup based on the 25th Amendment. MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough was soon comparing the president's "confused mental state" to his own mother's chronic dementia before warning later that "we are headed towards [sic] a nuclear showdown."
The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the New York Daily News all agreed: Trump is a "madman" who will kill us all. Ultimately, it did not matter that the House voted overwhelmingly to table a resolution to impeach the president last month in the same way that the veracity of Wolff's reporting is inconsequential – the damage from their Democrat spitballing is done.
With the authority of an Oval Office insider, Wolff gave credence to not just these charges of insanity, but the entire collection of recurring Beltway scuttlebutt on the president. From White House sleeping arrangements to the president's gluttonous obsession with McDonald's, the Hollywood Reporter columnist succeeded in convincing readers that information acquired from Trojan Horse reporting came straight from the horse's mouth.
Calmes calls this rumor restoration "the power that comes from tying together in one place the dizzying events of Trump's initial year plus [Wolff's] ability to write – as his subtitle proclaims – that his account comes from 'Inside the Trump White House.'" By virtue of having parked his rear end on a West Wing sofa for many months, Wolff validated every progressive conspiracy theory from 2017 and adapted these fantasies into a single pretentious potboiler that is as fallible as it is unoriginal.
These documented distortions are precisely what Trump's detractors want to hear: regurgitated politics-porn supported by journalism practices that were previously acceptable only when writing about sensitive national security secrets. The use of multiple anonymous sources to substantiate particularly licentious gossip started with the Russian collusion delusion and was sloppily adopted to provide a veneer of legitimacy to Wolff's own sell-all.
By virtue of his propensity to embellish the truth, the liberal media establishment argues that Trump invited his own character assassination. A Washington Post piece by senior reporter Aaron Blake exposes the factual inconsistencies of Fire and Fury before concluding that "this is the tell-all that Trump's post-truth presidency deserves."
In other words, Trump had it coming. Ten pages into Wolff's revisionist saga, the professional gossip-monger admits that his chronicle is built upon lies. "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."
Similarly, New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman tweeted that "even if some things are inaccurate/flat-out false, there's enough notionally accurate that people have difficulty knocking it down." The use of terminology like "notionally accurate" is anti-Trump-speak for confirming the left's inherent suspicions without actually presenting any proof to support them.
The mainstream press is determined to treat Fire and Fury like the infamous Christopher Steele dossier. Progressives contend that the merits of this Clinton-funded hit piece should not be challenged just because of one unsubstantiated story about prostitutes, a hotel bedroom, and a "golden shower."
Nearly one year from the first leak of this document, a Newsweek headline asks, "Is the Trump 'Pee Tape' Dossier True?," demonstrating how even the boldest mistruths are slow to die. Wolff's rumor-mongering is cut from the same cloth as Russiagate
Wolff's fiction has already produced dividends for the left, turning mainstream news cycles into a never-ending psychoanalysis of the POTUS. In Western Europe, where an apology tour-averse President Trump has never been popular, Europeans woke up to front-page headlines questioning the sanity of the leader of the free world the day following Wolff's pre-emptive publication. Even a media outlet from the tiny archipelago of Tonga is trending in the U.S. by asking, "Can Trump prove his sanity," as if the onus is on the president to disprove a psychiatric diagnosis rendered from social media posts and press conferences.
The good news for out-of-work tabloid-writers and underachieving White House correspondents is that there is plenty of demand for more Trump family fiction into 2018 and beyond. A new, fresh-faced presidential embed can settle on his own version of the truth to prove that Trump is not a billionaire, the first lady is a prostitute, and poor little Barron has autism.
Benjamin Baird is a senior staff writer with the Conservative Institute, a widely published political and Middle East analyst, and a U.S. Army infantry leader who battled insurgents for over 1,000 days in Iraq and Afghanistan.