Who is ‘Fire and Fury’ author Michael Wolff?
Author Michael Wolff has become a household name in days after wall-to-wall coverage of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
The book includes a series of stunning stories about the administration, depicting a president who didn’t think he’d win an election and struggles with the basics of governing.
Wolff writes that advisers to President Trump see him as a child who is unwilling to read basic briefing papers, suggesting the circle of people around him feel he is not up to the task of being commander in chief.
The explosive allegations have led to sharp criticism from the White House and its allies, who have dismissed Wolff’s book as “trashy tabloid fiction.”
And it has brought new scrutiny to Wolff, a 64-year-old newsroom veteran who has been a figure in New York media circles for decades.
Members of the media have questioned some of Wolff’s facts and tactics, highlighting what they say are errors in the book, including a contention that Trump did not know former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), even though they had golfed together.
Some journalists have also questioned whether some of Wolff’s sources thought they were speaking off the record, noting past controversies.
“I wonder how many [White House] staff told Wolff things off the record that he then used on the record,” Bloomberg View columnist Joe Nocera tweeted Thursday. “He’s never much cared about burning sources. Can’t imagine that many of those quotes were meant for publication.”
I wonder how many WH staff told Wolff things off the record that he then used on the record. He’s never much cared about burning sources. Can’t imagine that many of those quotes were meant for publication.
— Joe Nocera (@NoceraBV) January 4, 2018
After the publication in 1998 of “Burn Rate: How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet,” a book about his time at his startup company during the internet bubble of the 1990s, Brill’s Content noted that 13 people had groused that Wolff had “invented or changed quotes.”
“It would be easier to believe Wolff if there weren’t so many other apparent factual errors in Burn Rate,” a Brill’s review scolded.
Trump has also weighed in, saying he never spoke to Wolff.
“I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!” he wrote on Friday, referencing former White House strategist Stephen Bannon, who is quoted extensively in “Fire and Fury.”
I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2018
Wolff has pushed back in interviews this week, insisting he spoke to the president for the book.
“My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on Earth at this point,” he said to Savannah Guthrie on Friday on NBC’s “Today.”
The New Jersey-born Wolff began his career as a copy boy at The New York Times while attending Columbia University in the early 1970s.
He has since written seven books in addition to being a columnist and critic for The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, New York Magazine and Vanity Fair.
Wolff’s style has been to provide readers with a behind-the-scenes account of whatever he is covering. He won two prestigious National Magazine Awards in 2002 and 2004 for his coverage of the Iraq War, with the writer examining the sources citizens got their news from on the American invasion.
The work has its admirers and critics.
“Wolff is the quintessential New York creation, fixated on culture, style, buzz, and money, money, money,” New Republic writer Michelle Cottle wrote in a 2004 profile.
“Part gossip columnist, part psychotherapist, part social anthropologist, Wolff invites readers to be a fly on the wall of the moguls’ inner sanctum,” she wrote.
“Even Wolff acknowledges that conventional reporting isn’t his bag,” she wrote in the cover story.
“Rather, he absorbs the atmosphere and gossip swirling around him at cocktail parties, on the street, and especially during those long lunches.”
In the introduction to “Fire and Fury,” Wolff writes many of the accounts provided “are in conflict with one another” and may be “badly untrue.” He says he “settled on a version of events” he believed to be true.
Wolff says there were no restrictions around his access to administration members in the West Wing, with one Axios report stating he had tapes of many of the more than 200 interviews he conducted.
Bannon, who saw Trump break with him over the book, has not argued that he was misquoted. His statements led Trump’s legal team to level a cease-and-desist order that argued the strategist had violated his non-disclosure agreement.
The legal threat and White House criticism seems to have only compelled more interest in the book.
On Thursday Wolff’s publishers announced its release was being moved up from Tuesday to Friday due to overwhelming demand. “Fire and Fury” topped Amazon’s bestseller list before its release, and it is already the most downloaded book online in more than six years.
“Where do I send the box of chocolates?” Wolff told Guthrie on Friday.
“Not only is he helping me sell books, but he’s proving the point of the book.”