Michael Wolff’s Spotty Record Raises Questions About President Trump Tell-All

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This isn’t the first time author/journalist Michael Wolff has been accused of fabricating quotes.

A caustic gossip columnist more accustomed to taking down New York media moguls than Washington politicians, 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.

In excerpts from the book given to outlets where Mr. Wolff’s byline regularly appears — The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, New York magazine and the British version of GQ — the White House is portrayed as full of disorder, backbiting and infighting.

The book, which will be published Friday after its release date was sped up to meet heightened demand, relies on what Mr. Wolff, 64, describes as “extensive access to the White House and more than 200 interviews with Trump and senior staff over a period of 18 months.”

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

He won the National Magazine Award for commentary in 2002 and 2004, the latter for a series of columns he wrote as a war correspondent in Qatar.

He’s also the founder of the news-aggregation website Newser.com.

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

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.

Questions about accuracy may sound all too familiar to close followers of Mr. Wolff’s work.

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”.

“Wolff says he has notes and email that back him up, but refuses to release them,” Brill’s Content reported.

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

“Much to the annoyance of Wolff’s critics, the scenes in his columns aren’t recreated so much as created — springing from Wolff’s imagination rather than from actual knowledge of events,” Ms. Cottle wrote. “Even Wolff acknowledges that conventional reporting isn’t his bag.”

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.”

Part of the problem may be Mr. Wolff’s unfamiliarity with Washington.

Ms. Cottle pointed out that Mr. Wolff is “neither as insightful nor as entertaining when dissecting politics,” as he is when writing about his home turf, the Manhattan media scene.

She quoted one “Washington media eminence” who said Mr. Wolff is not “anywhere near as sharp on politics.”

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

The author, for example, 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.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Boehner played golf together as recently as 2013, and the president has tweeted about the Ohio Republican dozens of times.

But other anecdotes in the book have held up so far.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has yet to deny calling Donald Trump Jr. “treasonous” and “unpatriotic,” or Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.”

Even Mr. Trump, who said Mr. Bannon had “lost his mind” following the revelation, appeared to believe that part of the book.

 

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