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COLUMN: Readers should be skeptical about Michael Wolff's new book

Michael Wolff has made his living by disparaging public figures and that career is about to make him a household name with the publication of his new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" on his highest-profile target yet: President Trump.

As a genre, tell-all books invite justified skepticism because of the author's motives that drive their creation and the nature of their content.

People don’t write tell-all books about jerky bosses, and they don’t focus on fluff about the person’s favorite desserts. People write tell-all books about the scandals and secrets of celebrities and public officials whose names alone will sell the book and make the author a lot of money.  

If you are going to purchase such a book, my best advice is to be patient. Allow time for critics and news sources to assess its validity instead of hitting the pre-order button on Amazon and getting swept up in sensationalistic prose. 

If you can’t be patient, then at least be cautious. Read critically, and do your best to research claims that seem suspicious or particularly dramatized. 

You should also be especially wary of the author. Ask yourself what connections he or she might have to the book’s subject and assess how those connections might affect either the material or the presentation of the book.

Criticizing the mainstream media’s focus on and delivery of negative information about Trump, Wolff has written that news coverage strives constantly to bring about “the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of Trump.”

“Nothing counts but delivering a mortal wound, so everything is delivered as though it is a mortal wound,” Wolff wrote for Newsweek

Strange words coming from the man whose book could well be considered the most extensive attempt yet to deliver that wound.

In fact, Wolff claimed on the "Today" show Jan. 5, 2018, that, while gathering the material for “Fire and Fury,” he was willing to say “what was ever necessary to get the story” from those he interviewed.

The question then becomes: does this tactic cast doubt over the results, or did Wolff simply show the same disregard for tact and honesty as Trump in order to access information that could cause damage?

Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio carefully outlines the merits and weaknesses of Wolff’s account, which appears to be true on broad terms such as the “battle royale environment with White House factions in constant conflict,” but questionable on specifics such as whether Stephen Bannon orchestrated the “anti-immigrant actions in the early-days White House.” 

Perhaps the greatest indication of the veracity of some of Wolff’s claims is Trump’s disavowal of Bannon after excerpts of “Fire and Fury” were released. Bannon’s remarks about Trump’s unfitness and his “treasonous” meetings with a Russian lawyer were met with ire. These remarks have not been disputed.

The coarse showmanship of Trump’s statement, which alleges that when Bannon was fired, "he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” along with Trump’s legal action claiming that Bannon violated a confidentiality agreement, sends mixed signals.

Either Bannon is lying and therefore defaming Trump, or he is telling the truth and breaching a nondisclosure policy. 

So what is “Fire and Fury” worth? It is certainly something, as D’Antonio makes clear. Wolff’s book may not be perfect, but it is worth sifting through, and despite how he may have felt when he wrote his Newsweek piece, we do still need that mortal wound.  

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