Michael Wolff, a man who has practically built a career on pissing people off, found himself in the biggest media firestorm of his career this week.
On Wednesday, Wolff’s new book about President Donald Trump, which was written following months of exclusive access to key administration players, was published in part in several news outlets.
The excerpts contained a number of stunning anecdotes about the transition and first months of the administration, including passages that question Trump’s memory and mental health, describe media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s declaration that Trump is a “f—ing idiot,” and detail former White House political chief Steve Bannon’s criticism of Trump family members including Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr.
Trump allies have spent the past two days trashing Wolff and the book.
Trump’s lawyers sent Wolff a cease-and-desist letter, saying some of the claims made in the book about the president were libelous. During a press conference on Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly denied numerous claims in the book.
“There are numerous mistakes. But I’m not going to waste my time or the country’s time going page by page and talking about a book that is complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip,” Sanders said. “It is sad and pathetic. And our administration and focus will be more on moving the country forward.”
The Republican National Committee on Wednesday blasted out a 2004 New Republic feature which argued that Wolff often appeared to embellish details.
Wolff is no stranger to controversy.
A longtime New York media fixture
A longtime New York media fixture, Wolff built a reputation over his career as a blunt media critic at New York Magazine and USA Today with industry reports and prognostications that have been at times prescient and at times off-base.
Where once his rants about media figures and Manhattan lunch habits earned him the label of “It Boy of New York Media,” his list of curmudgeonly complaints about top figures has added up over the years.
He complained about top New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s stories about the Trump administration, argued liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan didn’t have a sense of humor, and said Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s writing style was informed by her supposed inability to nail down a man.
“I have a certain combination of fearlessness and foolishness,” he told the Washington Post in 2001. “I don’t really care. I will say anything.”
Questions about accuracy
But while many critics of Wolffs in the mid-2000s lamented his personality, skeptics of his new book were most acutely concerned about his journalistic accuracy.
Splinter’s David Uberti pointed out that press critics repeatedly questioned the specifics in Wolff’s 1998 book “Burn Rate,” and that in his scathing review of Wolff’s book about media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former New York Times media columnist David Carr said Wolff “never distinguished himself as a reporter” and was “far less circumspect” than other journalists.
Journalists were also skeptical of Wolff’s claim that Trump didn’t seem to remember who former House Speaker John Boehner was, considering he’d previously commented about Boehner in public at length.
Others like NBC’s Katy Tur pointed out that the book’s author note left wiggle room for some embellishment, noting that some of the conversations appeared to be recreations.
Thin but readable. Well written. Several things that are true and several that are not. Light in fact-checking and copy-editing.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 3, 2018
Others shared personal stories about their bizarre and negative experiences with Wolff when he ran Adweek during the late 2000’s.
Alright @moneyries is right. Fuck it. So it’s late 2010 (early November, maybe late October) and Wolff had just joined Adweek. So I get a recruiter call to talk about a possible job. I lived in Atlanta and worked at Mashable, but was looking to move to New York.So I take the call
— Christina Warren (@film_girl) January 3, 2018
For his part, though, Wolff has stayed largely mum on the book, and some evidence has emerged that could vindicate some of his claims.
Axios reported that Wolff had hours of taped interviews, including some with Bannon and former White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh.
Further, he appeared un-cowed by Trump’s threat of a lawsuit, instead pushing up the book’s release date by four days in select stores.