Three points about this clip, which I've embedded at the bottom of this post: (1) It really does look like Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff played extremely fast and loose with the truth in the course of compiling a book that has consumed Washington for days. If the White House had simply chided Steve Bannon, indicted the author by highlighting a few glaring errors, then ignored further questions about it as the press did additional vetting, they could have denied this story a great deal of oxygen (focusing instead on good economic news and positive tax reform outcomes). But the president and his inner circle went nuclear on Bannon, and have aggressively fueled this whole story. Yes, it's true that some of the media's intense anti-Trump confirmation bias would lead them to run with highly dubious assertions made in the book. Some journalists are more or less openly admitting as much:
Michael Wolff asked on MSNBC about the factual errors in his Trump book.— Benny (@bennyjohnson) January 8, 2018
His actual response: "If it makes sense to you, if it strikes a cord, if it rings true, it is true."
Katy Tur response: "I read it, I -- a lot of the did feel true"
This is Journalisming. pic.twitter.com/IOowlxWNvV
Feelings. This same NBC correspondent and MSNBC host, who's likened her profession to firefighting, explicitly congratulated Wolff on President Trump hating his work. 'Fake but accurate' sure is alluring when Republicans are in office. Still, other reporters are taking their roles as arbiters of truth more seriously, hence the Tapper's fact check below.
(2) Speaking of Tapper, just a few days ago, he was the bete noir of the Trumpist Right, having clashed with White House adviser Stephen Miller on State of the Union, ultimately cutting the segment short and blasting Miller's appearance as a waste of viewers' time. Now, the GOP's "war room" is eagerly circulating this clip as a means of discrediting Wolff. Allahpundit is trying to sort through the whiplash-inducing cognitive dissonance involved here:
Yesterday the president was crowing that Tapper is a hateful, unfair CNN flunky who’d been destroyed by Stephen Miller, today the GOP’s “war room” YouTube account is circulating this clip of him puncturing the Wolff hype balloon. Which is it? Can I trust this flunky’s hatefully unfair analysis or can’t I? More importantly, has Tapper’s eleventh-hour attack on Wolff jeopardized his chances to take home a coveted Fakey Award on Wednesday night?
The tribalistic answer, of course, is simple: When a journalist like Tapper reaffirms your pre-existing view of the world and offers coverage that is helpful to your tribe (or unhelpful to the other), his work should be applauded and shared. When the opposite is true, he's a lying Fake News hack -- proving, once again, that the media cannot be trusted. This lazy approach is enticing because it doesn't require much intellectual rigor, and never requires adherents to seriously grapple with challenges to their beliefs. Sunday Tapper, bad! "Destroyed" by pro-Trump Miller! Monday Tapper, good! "Destroys" anti-Trump Wolff!
(3) I'm once again bowled over by the sheer self-destructiveness of Steve Bannon. It's almost impressive in its self-immolating efficiency. The general GOP line of attack against Michael Wolff's claims about Trumpworld is that many of them range from absurdly outlandish to empirically falsifiable -- and that they're advance by a media figure with an established checkered history with the truth. Nevertheless, the many quotes with which Bannon hung himself seem to be the only major element of the book not under dispute. He said all of those things, probably on tape. He bashed the president's kids on the record, and openly speculated that Donald Trump himself was party to the infamous Trump Tower 'attempted collusion' meeting, which took place before Bannon even joined the campaign. Now "Sloppy Steve" is reduced to issuing sheepish apologies while the president drops rhetorical bombs on him, with nearly the entire Republican Party cheering Trump on. Slow clap, Steve.
In any case, here's the Tapper segment, which merely scratches the surface of dubious or discredited content. Quote: "The book is riddled with errors and rumors." Around the three minute mark, Tapper highlights three mistakes...in a single paragraph. Whatever you think of Trump or Wolff, it's clear that a lot of this book is sloppy or speculative garbage: