The Jury Talks Back


Another Review of “Fire and Fury”: An Unreliable But Entertaining Portrait of a Trump We Already Know

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 9:00 am

I read “Fire and Fury” over the weekend. Joe Cunningham has his review of the book here. My reaction is a little different, so I thought I’d offer mine as a counterbalance.

The Good Conservative Take on this is that author Michael Wolff is not to be trusted, therefore literally 100% of the book can be discounted. The latest criticism of Trump dismissed, we can dust off our hands and move on to praising the grand conservative accomplishments of Donald Trump’s administration, including no ObamaCare repeal, adding to our $20 trillion debt, and slightly less regulation. #MAGA!

The liberal take is that the book demonstrates Trump to be unstable and functionally illiterate, with no adults in charge in the White House.

My take is that it’s always dangerous to give too much credence to insider stories in politics, and especially to a book with as many obvious errors as this one has. That said, the book is not bad, and offers some insight into the Trump White House, as long as you take it all with shakerfuls of salt.

Let’s discuss the errors. The book was obviously rushed to print a few days early, but that doesn’t excuse the wretched editing and mistakes. These range from an appalling number of typos, some embarrassing, to sentences missing verbs, to outright and obvious factual errors. Many of these have been pointed out. A reporter is said to have attended a meal at the Four Seasons when he has never been; it turns out that another man with the same name actually attended. The word “pubic” instead of “public” appears twice, leading to embarrassments like this:


Putting the errors aside, there is the issue of unreliable narrators. In a book about palace intrigue, everyone is jockeying for position. Those still in power are looking to preserve and extend their influence. Those on the outs are looking to preserve their legacy. In politics, the personalities are nastier and more backbiting than in other stories.

That said, we do have a public Trump with which to assess Wolff’s portrait of private Trump — and frankly, it’s the same guy. Early on, one of the most devastating parts of the book, and one that had me laughing out loud, was simply Wolff quoting verbatim Trump’s speech to the CIA shortly after his inauguration. Were it not a public (not pubic, Wolff!) speech, and were you unfamiliar with Donald Trump, you’d read these words and be baffled that they could come from a U.S. President. But the speech is on YouTube. Wolff didn’t make it up.

The book is full of interesting anecdotes that are wholly compatible with what we know about public Trump, but still shed some insight into the workings of the White House. You’ve already read many of the passages. Some you may not have.

I enjoyed reading about how, when Priebus resigned, Priebus and Trump were on Air Force One discussing the timing of the announcement. Trump told Priebus: “You tell me what works for you. Let’s make it good.” When Priebus stepped onto the tarmac, an alert on his phone informed him that Trump had tweeted that Priebus was out, and Kelly was in. Nobody had told Kelly.

Much has been made of the nasty and self-serving things that Steve Bannon says in the book, and there are plenty of them. But I was surprised to find myself liking him at one point in the book, as the sole voice against bombing Syria. I know bombings are popular, and that wars are popular, and this is not a popular thing to say on a conservative blog. So be it. I’m highly skeptical of war and military action and so is Steve Bannon. And after he lost the fight about the bombing, due to Trump being shown pictures of children harmed by Assad’s chemical attacks, Bannon attended the “for-posterity” photo op. The book records that “Bannon glowered from his seat at the table, revolted by the stagecraft and the ‘phoniness of the f*cking thing.'” Another vignette shows Bannon refusing makeup for his CPAC appearance, contrasting with Priebus, who got pancaked up. For all his faults, Bannon comes across as the Holden Caulfield of the White House. And I kinda liked Holden Caulfield.

In another hilarious story, Wolff relates how Bannon learned about that famous Scaramucci interview with the New Yorker when fact checkers called Bannon “for comment about Scaramucci’s accusation that he sucked his own c*ck.”

Overall, it’s a wildly entertaining book. You just can’t take it as reliable history. Neither can you entirely discount it 100%. There’s too much there. I’d credit something like 60% to 90% of what I read.

Go ahead and blow $15 on the Kindle version. If you’re a political nut, you’ll enjoy it.

[Cross-posted at RedState.]


  1. Here is a link to the transcript of Trump’s CIA speech.

    Comment by DRJ — 1/8/2018 @ 9:49 am

  2. All Presidents have their quirks. They can generally hide the details from the public but it’s not surprising they can’t hide who they are from the people they work with. Most Presidents seem more likeable when we see what happens behind the scenes, but a few are shown as the weak men/bullies they really are.

    Comment by DRJ — 1/8/2018 @ 10:09 am

  3. Something that is 60% reliable, isn’t reliable at all.

    Comment by SPQR — 1/8/2018 @ 2:13 pm

  4. Then doctors’ diagnoses aren’t worth spit.

    Comment by DRJ — 1/8/2018 @ 3:08 pm

  5. I know a fair amount about publishing, and I will say for a fact that moving the publication date up a few days is not the cause of the volume of editing errors cited. It can’t be; it takes a lot longer than that to do even a passable editing job, even with several editors who each take a chapter.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 1/8/2018 @ 8:18 pm

  6. Yes, it indicates a complete abandonment of editing entirely. Which makes one wonder about the usual legal department review of these kind of nominally non-fiction works. I suspect that was abandoned too.

    Comment by SPQR — 1/9/2018 @ 11:18 am

  7. How would an editor fact check claims about what happens in the White House, when the public statements made by the President and many of his employees are so contradictory?

    Aren’t the only options to publish only public pronouncements with no commentary, refuse to publish anything about the White House, or publish the contradictions and let the public decide (as here)?

    Comment by DRJ — 1/9/2018 @ 12:08 pm

  8. Howeber, I agree that the fact that the editing was glaringly poor reflects on the believability of the book. Like Patterico, I think that means it’s hard to believe anything except what was already public knowledge. The only thing I would add is that the mere fact that Wolff had access to these people tells us the White House is a hot mess.

    Comment by DRJ — 1/9/2018 @ 12:11 pm

  9. Aren’t the only options to publish only public pronouncements with no commentary, refuse to publish anything about the White House, or publish the contradictions and let the public decide (as here)?

    I’m just not as offended as many that he is publishing various quotes from people when he can’t substantiate everything they say. That happens all the time, and getting their position down on paper is interesting and useful.

    Comment by Patterico — 1/10/2018 @ 7:41 am

  10. I agree. I don’t see any other way to cover Trump’s White House when the message is so contradictory. If the reporter the White House chose to tell its story can’t grasp what other goals are, it could be there aren’t any.

    Comment by DRJ — 1/10/2018 @ 9:06 am

  11. My comment 7 was responding to SPQR’s comment 6, not the post. He was wondering about a review by the publisher’s legal department, and my thought was that the chaos coming from the White House opened the door to speculation about what happens there. Why should a publisher’s legal department worry about contradictions when Trump clearly doesn’t?

    Comment by DRJ — 1/10/2018 @ 9:15 am

  12. I knew you were responding to SPQR. I was just agreeing.

    Comment by Patterico — 1/10/2018 @ 1:28 pm

  13. A publisher’s legal department ought to be able to at least render an opinion to its corporate client regarding whether or not there is at least enough credible sourcing for any statements of fact to meet a NY v. Sullivan standard. Sounds dubious here.

    But hey …. I’m not their insurance underwriter **insert facepalm here **

    Comment by SPQR — 1/10/2018 @ 1:56 pm

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