Wolff in the Henhouse

by Michael Gross Photographed by Sylvain Gaboury/PMC
Thursday, January 4, 2018

It was only a matter of time until fake news stopped being an exclusively conservative bugaboo. At least, that’s the lesson from the current kerfuffle around Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book, Fire and Fury. For those who’ve somehow missed it, Wolff, who says he occupied “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing,” has produced what’s being touted as the great tell-all of the early Trump administration—an in-depth, riotous account of all the infighting and incompetence said to plague the president’s inner circle.

But at AVENUE, we wonder whether Wolff is merely poised to become the left’s version of Edward Klein, the former New York Times Magazine editor who long ago embarked on a curious and to many minds disreputable second career revealing dubious “truths” about progressive if flawed families like the Kennedys and the Clintons. Wolff’s book aims to do something similar: to further inflame the passions of the president’s masses of haters, and end up a bestseller, too. If it balances the levels of poisonous political rhetoric from the right that pervade our few remaining brick-and-mortar bookstores—and gets more people to shop at them—there will be a small something to cheer about here without nagging reservations.

For what it’s worth, Wolff is not without journalistic credentials. Like me, he’s a former columnist for New York, where we ovelapped. (We also both attended Vassar at the same time. Make of all that what you will.) But Wolff’s latest work of “journalism” was immediately marked questionable, and not just by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s lawyers, and other presidential puppets.

The Washington Post, hardly a Breitbart subsidiary, ran not one but two articles questioning the book’s veracity and its author’s credibility. The mistakes and exaggerations the Post catalogued are legion—Trump asking who John Boehner was, despite a long history between the two; recounted conversations that simply couldn’t have been witnessed firsthand; impossible financial donations—but the passage that most raised our eyebrows comes from the Wolff himself, from a revenge memoir he penned about his time in the tech business.

“How many fairly grievous lies had I told?” he wrote in that book. “How many moral lapses had I committed? How many ethical breaches had I fallen into?” Only after Wolff’s tech business collapsed in 1997, did he decide to return to a post-collegiate writing career he’d abandoned long before.

A reminder for liberals: the enemy of my enemy isn’t always my friend. Fake news from the left doesn’t help anybody. And fake news from an opportunist may be even worse.

The moral here? Caveat lector.


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