It feels like age ago, but in the not-too-distant past, the book 'Fire and Fury' was the talk of the town in DC -- leading to the demise of Steve Bannon's relationship with the White House in which he once served, likely because his quotes seemed to be the only verified element of the gossip-packed volume. As Official Washington buzzed about its contents, Trump defenders, and even some liberals, warned that author Michael Wolff had a checkered reputation for due diligence and accuracy. As Wolffe promoted his book all over television, he was forced to admit that he didn't have every supposed 'fact' locked down. But that didn't stop him from gaining lots of notoriety or spreading a disgusting slander of Amb. Nikki Haley, whom Wolff baselessly suggested was having an affair with the president. It was that incident that damaged Wolff's credibility even further, and that led Haley to publish an exasperated tweet when the Grammy Awards heavily promoted 'Fire and Fury' during their awards show. The double standards were incandescently clear, as [trigger warning] New York Times columnist Bari Weiss noted in a piece we quoted at the time:
For years, the fundamental complaint of the right in the culture wars has been that the left is hypocritical, and the Nikki Haley episode perfectly confirms the point: A prominent Republican woman is smeared. The author who does the smearing is celebrated by all the A-listers, including the most prominent Democratic woman in the country, who herself has a history of giving a pass (or worse) to men accused of sexual assault and harassment. And yet the arbiters of American culture cheer the Democrat and, in the words of the actor Don Cheadle, tell the Republican who has the gall to defend herself: “Sit down, girl. You’re drunk.” In the Trump era, the left has smartly and justifiably seized a moral high ground that the right has abandoned by its embrace of the president. That’s a high ground the left cannot hold if it embraces subtle double standards that it would never accept for a moment if the woman in question was a Kirsten Gillibrand or a Kamala Harris. When Matt Lauer subjected Hillary Clinton to a harsh interview, within 24 hours it was common knowledge that it was evidence of misogyny. But when Nikki Haley is smeared with the most base, sexist lie, it’s met with little more than a collective shrug.
Fast forward a few weeks, and Wolff is still on his global book tour, selling piles of books to Trump haters 'round the world. But it's been a bit of a bumpy ride at times. Wolff found himself under fire from a Dutch interviewer and audience about his smear of Haley, at which point he had no choice but to bristle and backtrack with a humiliating 'clarification:'
Under pressure from a Dutch audience, after weeks of suggesting otherwise, Michael Wolff is forced to admit "I do not know if the president is having an affair"https://t.co/U5khtoSOqV— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 25, 2018
Again and again, Huys pushed Wolff to reconcile how his multimedia stunt — using the book and the Maher interview to cook up an allegation — could be reconciled with journalism class. Asked if he regretted his remark on Maher’s show, Wolff said, “I did not make any remark. I only said that I believe the president, in all likelihood, is involved with someone. And that reflects the gossip in the White House and whether true or not, I don’t know, which is why it is not in the book.” An audience member stated that “implying” that a woman is having an affair wounds her reputation. To which Wolff replied, “Let me say this as directly as I can. Let’s go right through anybody’s thick skull. I did not — I do not know who Donald Trump is having an affair with, okay?”
It didn't end there. In an interview on Australian television, Wolff was confronted by the presenter with more tough questions, at which point he pretended -- not very convincingly -- that he was unable to hear, and cut off the discussion:
Audio recordings released by the show effectively prove that Wolff invented the 'technical glitch' to wriggle away from questions he didn't want to answer. Embarrassing:
We've got an update for you on our interview with @MichaelWolffNYC. Footage from our London studio would suggest that there were no audio problems and Wolff had no problem hearing @BenFordham's question! #9Today pic.twitter.com/dj4AOJht47— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) February 25, 2018
I realize that confirmation bias is a powerful phenomenon, and many people are eager to hear and believe the worst about Donald Trump and the people around him. He certainly gives them plenty of plausible material. But beware gossip-mongerers with spotty records bearing too-good-to-check rumors. People who took Wolff seriously now have egg on their faces, too -- especially the ousted adviser who decided it was a good idea to give this guy, of all people, extraordinary access to a White House that he's since cashed in on by trashing in a book jammed with factually-dubious assertions and anecdotes.