For decades, Michael Wolff was famous in journalistic circles for his provocative, acerbic critiques of the media and fly-on-the-wall tell-alls that suggest unlimited access. But thanks to his new book “Fire & Fury: Inside The Trump White House,” he isn’t just famous among fellow reporters. He’s everywhere.
But that attention– amplified by Trump’s attempt to block the release of the book — has revived questions about Wolff’s methods, sourcing and believability.
Here are some things to know about the author who’s made the president furious.
1. He’s been working in the media since the ’70s
The 64-year-old grew up in New Jersey, the son of an advertising executive father and a newspaper reporter mother. He got his start in the 1970s as a copy boy at the New York Times, and landed his first big break with a Times Magazine profile of Angela Atwood, who helped to kidnap Patty Hearst.
Since then, he’s worked as a writer, essayist and media columnist for outlets like USA Today, Newsweek, Vanity Fair and The Hollywood Reporter. But his main claim to fame has been best-selling books such as 1998’s “Burn Rate,” about the early days of internet moguls, and “The Man Who Owns the News,” a biography of Rupert Murdoch.
2. He’s no stranger to charges of stretching the truth
Wolff has contended with claims against his stories’ accuracy for years. The now-defunct media review publication Brill’s Content said 13 different subjects in his of his 1998 book “Burn Rate” disputed Wolff’s account of them and accused him of inventing or changing quotes: “And none of those quoted recalls Wolff taking notes or recording the discussions, some of which took place three years ago.”
While the late New York Times media reporter David Carr mostly praised Wolff’s “joyously nasty” 2008 biography of Rupert Murdoch, he also wrote, “One of the problems with Wolff’s omniscience is that while he may know all, he gets some of it wrong.”
Washington Post writer Paul Farhi said Wolff “has a penchant for stirring up an argument and pushing the facts as far as they’ll go.”
A Slate review even suggested that Wolff may have even admitted to his own embellishments. “How many fairly grievous lies had I told? How many moral lapses had I committed? How many ethical breaches had I fallen into?” the review quotes Wolff as saying.
Wolff has resisted the traditional journalist label as well as that of a media critic. A New Republic profile of Wolff said he’s uninterested in the working press and makes himself the center of the story by fixating on moguls and power players in media, tech or politics.
“Wolff is the quintessential New York creation, fixated on culture, style, buzz, and money, money, money. For Wolff, nothing is more erotic than a multibillionaire,” the author Michelle Cottle wrote.
4. He’s been a vocal critic of the media
Wolff has taken aim at everyone from Rupert Murdoch to Politico in his time as a media columnist, but he’s most recently fed into the narrative that the media “is obsessed with Trump,” and vice versa. “To the media, it is a given that Trump is largely out of control and that the people around him are struggling at all times to save him from himself–and largely failing,” Wolff wrote in Newsweek. “This view persists (again in a series of unsourced stories this past week), despite Trump’s victory flattening almost every media assumption about his supposed haplessness and lack of strategy.”
He called out CNN’s Brian Stelter in that same article, and even then appeared on Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” to call him a “ridiculous figure” to his face. “It’s not a good look to repeatedly and self-righteously defend your own self-interest. The media should not be the story,” Wolff said.
5. The Trump White House was his dream assignment
Wolff interviewed Trump in June of 2016 for The Hollywood Reporter and said that he leveraged that profile into gaining access to the White House.
“This is the most extraordinary story of our time,” Wolff told CNBC after the election.
And he explained in New York Magazine that with the encouragement of the president himself, he achieved “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing.” He said there were no ground rules placed on his access or what he could report.
6. “Fire & Fury” has already drawn fire
It’s no surprise that some of the people at the center of the story would dispute some of Wolff’s claims. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that the president really did know who John Boehner was — despite Wolff’s reporting that he didn’t — and Tony Blair called portions of the book “a complete fabrication.”
In addition, Tom Barrack, the billionaire private equity investor and Trump loyalist, told Maggie Haberman of the New York Times that a quote attributed to him is “totally false,” and former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh disputed passages about her to Jonathan Swan of Axios.
But Wolff has defended his story, saying in a THR column that “you can’t make this s— up.”
And even some skeptics acknowledge this story could be bigger than nitpicking individual quotes and details.
+ even if some things are inaccurate/flat-out false, there’s enough notionally accurate that people have difficulty knocking it down https://t.co/0Kdi4M9dcy
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 3, 2018
I get that journalists are skeptical of Michael Wolff’s reporting & sourcing. But ask yourself: what percentage of that chapter would need to be true to reveal the most incompetent, corrupt, broken administration in history?
20%? 10%? 5%?
It’s true enough.
— Jason Mittell (@jmittell) January 4, 2018