Fire and Fury review: A year into Donald Trump's term, Michael Wolff's tell-all book is as flaky as its subject

Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House hit the stands earlier this month, but to be fair, a large chunk of the most salacious information contained within was already doing the rounds

Karan Pradhan January 22, 2018 15:14:39 IST
Fire and Fury review: A year into Donald Trump's term, Michael Wolff's tell-all book is as flaky as its subject

Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House hit the stands earlier this month, but to be fair, a large chunk of the most salacious information contained within was already doing the rounds. And upon its eventual launch, the subject of the piece had the following to say:

The tell-all book about President Donald Trump's administration, by the author's admission, is a patchwork of "conversations that took place over a period of 18 months with the president, with most members of his senior staff — some of whom talked to me dozens of times — and with many people who they in turn spoke to". This little stub that appears on page IX (that's right, before the Arabic numerals have even begun) of the book is problematic for two reasons. First, there's Trump's own 'clarification':

Second, there's the vagueness of the author's attributed sources. "(M)ost members of his senior staff" and "many people who they in turn spoke to" make his sources seem a lot hazier than they should have been, thereby, casting a shadow of doubt on the veracity of the tales related in the 300-odd pages that follow. Unfortunately, even after those 300-odd pages have passed, the reader is left no clearer about the veracity of Wolff's tales.

Further, reports of how the book likely went to the printers without a fact-check do little to shake off the idea that the 'non' part in this 'nonfiction' book might be slightly stretched. Nevertheless, a closer examination is required and considering it was this week last year that Trump was sworn in as President of the United States of America, it would be timely too.

A year ago, it's debatable how many people would have accurately been able to predict what the world would look like in January 2018. It's safe to say that so far, at least, our worst fears are far from coming to fruition. Put another way, it's not a worst case scenario, however, it's still far from ideal — this is evident in the fact that the most powerful man in the world is someone who, in public, says things like:

"I know a lot about West Point, I'm a person who very strongly believes in academics. Every time I say I had an uncle who was a great professor at MIT for 35 years, who did a fantastic job in so many ways academically — he was an academic genius — and then they say, Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I'm like a smart person."

What, you may well ask, was the occasion at which Trump delivered these lines.

In case you happen to be reading this on Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles, there's a chance you missed the little interaction above, so, where do you think Trump delivered those lines? Was it at MIT, CIA headquarters in Langley, US Military Academy at West Point or UN headquarters in New York? Interestingly enough — and as those able to take the quiz discovered/already knew, it was at Langley soon after he took office that Trump delivered these words.

According to Wolff, it was in order to make peace with the intelligence community — which he had frequently berated on the campaign trail — that Trump picked Langley as one of his first stops and the subject of what the author calls "some of the the most peculiar remarks ever delivered by an American president" was incoming CIA director Mike Pompeo, who as it turned out had graduated from West Point. But Trump's quote (arriving well into the first quarter of the book) is a good analogy for the man portrayed across the span of Fire and Fury: Someone who takes any topic, sprinkles over it somewhat apocryphal (often completely fallacious) anecdotes, makes it all about himself and ultimately, serves only to obfuscate the matter and confuse his audience.

Fire and Fury review A year into Donald Trumps term Michael Wolffs tellall book is as flaky as its subject

Representational image. AP

It's here that Wolff's book runs into a bit of rough weather, because it's hard to know which parts are apocryphal, which are factual and which are Steve Bannon's own opinions. The over-reliance on once White House chief strategist Bannon for the proverbial dope on the goings-on in the Oval Office and elsewhere on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue becomes clear over the course of Fire and Fury's many chapters in the way the former Breitbart chief's own views largely colour the narrative. To this effect, PTI had quoted US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley as stating, "I don’t know if it was 200 interviews with Steve Bannon, or if it was 200 interviews with himself..." when asked about some of the content of the book.

And then there's the inability to stick to a story, the most high-profile instance of which was Wolff quoting media mogul Rupert Murdoch as calling Trump a "f**king idiot" in the book and saying he called him a "f**king moron" during a TV interview. The book is rife with other such discrepancies.

So what's actually in the book?

An earlier article on Firstpost had skimmed through some of the biggest 'disclosures' contained within the book, but here's a quick rundown of some of the more notable ones:

1) The idea that neither Trump nor his team particularly planned on (or even desired, it seems) to be in the White House and that the whole idea of expanding the Trump brand was top priority is explored at the outset.

2) The notion that not only was Trump aware of the June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer that Donald Trump Jr and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner conducted is presented and so too is the insinuation that Trump himself may have been in attendance.

3) The controversial topic of the president's purported unfitness for office has been covered extensively.

4) The role of Ivanka in Trump's life (public and private) — including playing the part of 'marriage counsellor' — is also explored, with an allusion to her own political aspirations.

5) The harebrained schemes of 'Jarvanka' (the portmanteau of Kushner and Ivanka) are discussed, including the contentious decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director.

6) Trump's relationship with Melania is painted as a very troubled one, right from the way she reacted to him being elected all the way to them having separate bedrooms.

7) The sense of paranoia — almost up there with Richard Nixon-esque levels — with which Trump lives from day-to-day is detailed throughout the book. Wolff touches upon why he chooses to almost exclusively dine on cheeseburgers, change his own bedsheets and refuse to allow the help to pick his clothes up off the floor, all the way to his distrust of people around him.

8) The president's strange relationship with women also goes under the microscope with statements like "Trump liked to say that one of the things that made life worth living was getting your friends' wives into bed" sitting side-by-side with assertions like "...the kind of women he liked — positive-outlook, can-do, loyal women, who also looked good — understood him". That women of this sort were also "tolerant of or oblivious to or amused by or steeled against his casual misogyny and constant sexual subtext" goes some way in providing a glimpse into how Trump views women.

9) The most recent revelation to have jumped out of the pages of Fire and Fury surrounds Wolff's insinuation that Trump is having an affair with a member of his staff. To that effect, there is plenty of conjecture around who the target of his affection could be.

The bottomline

The problem with most 'tell-all' books is that they rarely tell all and what they do contain suffers from a jaundiced retelling of events. Fire and Fury is no different, conveying one side of the story and carrying with it a considerable number of Bannon's own biases. But the biggest problem with the book is that it is as flaky as the subject it seeks to examine. It lavishes detail on individuals — past and present — in the Trump White House — and ignores anything to do with policy. The most fascinating aspect of the year-old Trump presidency has been its policymaking thus far and an insider's look into the synthesis of some of the new policies would have been enlightening. Unfortunately, what we're left with is a hodgepodge account of the people around the president, which is neither here nor there and lacks substance.

The other problem is the apparent haste with which the book seems to have been pushed out. Perhaps Wolff thought that Bannon's exit would mean his own days of access to the corridors of power would soon dry up and decided to rush through with it. Perhaps he didn't feel corroborations or second opinions — particularly from those vilified in the book — were needed. Perhaps he wanted to beat a possible injunction that would make it impossible for him to publish at all. Regardless, what has emerged is not just an incomplete and factually-dubious book, but one that is replete with editing errors.

Here's a look at two of the most glaring ones:

On Page 127: "Bannon was making his first official pubic appearance of the Trump presidency..." (emphasis added)

On Page 291: "...Bannon, with mounting ferocity and pubic venom, could abide them less and less every day." (emphasis added)

Of course, it's perfectly human for mistakes to slip through the nets of a horde of editors and proofreaders, but when it's errors as basic as the ones above, it makes you wonder if and not how the book was edited. In summation, while the book will likely sell many millions of copies and make its author and publisher a tonne of cold hard cash, history will look upon it as an opportunity squandered. Wolff spurned the chance to put out a substantive text that would help millions make sense of the strange goings-on in the White House and in doing so, may have blocked off access to writers who may have performed a better job with that brief.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is published by Hachette India

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