If there are any questions left as to the lack of competence of the White House staff surrounding President Trump, the decision to let author Michael Wolff ‘hang out’ in the West Wing for the first nine months of the administration should confirm the answer.
The result of the decision, whether it was made by the staff or the president himself—known to be reading averse—was Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which portrayed a highly dysfunctional White House. As its publisher bragged, “Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Fire and Fury shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion.”
Thanks to President Trump’s ill-advised effort to suppress publication of the book, suggesting he is unfamiliar with the First Amendment, it shot immediately to the top of the bestseller lists and has stayed there for weeks.
Wolff has been somewhat coy about how he talked his way into a remarkable journalistic opportunity, but there’s not much excuse for anyone who enabled it.
In his 2008 book, The Man Who Owns the News, Wolff got a lot of access to famously private media mogul Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., who is particularly relevant in 2018 as the owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.
Had anyone at the White House bothered to read it, Wolff’s earlier work made clear his view of the pre-presidential Donald Trump:
“If on one end of the rich scale there is Donald Trump, all mouth and affect, calling attention to himself, on the other end is Rupert Murdoch, shadowy and scowling, all head and no affect, his personality largely hidden from view.”
As Wolff paints him, Murdoch is the real item, the cut throat dealmaker that Donald Trump has always claimed to be, though years of bankruptcies and failed deals suggest otherwise. Wolff builds the book around Murdoch’s years-long and eventually successful effort to buy the Wall Street Journal.
The day of the takeover was brutal, as some high-level executives who had helped to bring about the deal found themselves betrayed and lower-level employees were on their own.
“Although Murdoch offered some begrudging words about working together when he spoke to the staff, what he actually meant, News Corps staff were explaining, was that if you had a problem, leave. There was work to do, a paper to put out. A Murdoch paper.”
In another bit of foreshadowing about his 2018 subject, Wolff showed no patience with the pious portrayal by rich families of their dynastic love for each other. “Murdoch’s projection about his children manages to be both compellingly normal and obviously creepy at the same time.” Wolff skewers the Murdoch family relationships, which really seem to be driven by business, first and foremost.
“[I]t’s in the nature of his business. He’s in the tabloid business. He’s the whoremaster. The ruder you are, the more papers you sell. You can sugarcoat this, or not. In some perversely honorable sense, he chooses not to do so.”
Welcome to the White House, Mr. Wolff!
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