In 1998, Forbes magazine discovered that a writer at The New Republic had “fictionalized his reporting to improve upon reality.” Ultimately, Stephen Glass became forever known as a “Fabulist” for having made up scores of stories for a myriad of major magazines.
Shamed and fired, he retreated from the literary world. A few years later, Jayson Blair, a reporter at the New York Times, was fired when it was discovered he fabricated and plagiarized multiple stories. In the aftermath, the managing and executor editors at the Times resigned.
Both scandals rocked the news and journalism communities, yet what a difference 15 years and a threat to the political status quo make, as Michael Wolff becomes the new international darling of fabulist reportage with “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
The story is meant to be an exposé of a chaotic Trump White House, filled with whiney, gossipy aides who think the president dumb and churlish. Even Ivanka Trump is a turncoat, but a dumb one (of course). The books ends up as graffiti, paying homage to every fabulous fantasy of a cosmopolitan smart-set drowning in their fear and loathing of the president.
Rushed to publication after its target complained it was chock-full of falsehoods and untruths, we learn on page 10 of the prologue that … it’s chock-full of not the truth. Mr. Wolff admits in this note he’s not sure what’s true and what isn’t. He explains, being generous, that he’s leaving it to the reader to decide. He also confesses he, “settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”
Mr. Farhi relays a story from 2004, wherein a writer at the New Republic explains, “Much to the annoyance of Wolff’s critics, the scenes in his columns aren’t recreated so much as created — springing from Wolff’s imagination rather than from actual knowledge of events…”
He reiterated his version of the truth on “Meet the Press” Sunday. Asked if he regretted the errors, he didn’t answer and instead insisted people should, “Read the book, see if you don’t feel like you are with me on that couch in the White House, and see if you don’t feel alarmed.” The facts and truth don’t matter, we are essentially told. Trust the fabulist to make you feel alarmed, because feelings are what’s important. Just don’t ask if anything is real.
Mssrs. Glass and Blair would be proud. And Brian Williams perhaps should feel equally vindicated, as he truly believed he was shot at in Iraq and a dead body floated by him in New Orleans. My, how history could change.
Jennifer Rubin’s column at the Washington Post provides a Trump-hater primer on why Wolff’s book is important, even if it is false. Because, you see, “…it has the power to change others’ behavior and perception of the president and the White House… First, Trump is going to be doubly suspicious of even his closest allies. Ivanka Trump mocking his hair? Jared Kushner trying to grab credit? He was paranoid before; now one should expect him to trust virtually no one in the White House.”
Ms. Rubin then giddily imagines how no one of quality will want to work in the White House, and can barely contain her excitement about how this book will negatively affect the president’s relationships with our allies. Not because anything is true, but simply because the claims are in a book.
What prompts Ms. Rubin’s approach of “fake but important” is possibly Mr. Wolff’s admitted reputation for having a difficult relationship with the truth. In a story about the book, Paul Farhi of the Washington Post provides an audit of Mr. Wolff’s questionable journalistic ethics over the years. Among his examples, Mr. Farhi relays a story from 2004, wherein a writer at the New Republic explains, “Much to the annoyance of Wolff’s critics, the scenes in his columns aren’t recreated so much as created — springing from Wolff’s imagination rather than from actual knowledge of events…”
The willingness of Trump-haters to believe anything negative about the president bodes well for Trump fabulists, and has taken on pathological proportions. Consider the “Gorilla Channel” hoax. An obviously satirical story on Twitter presented as an excerpt of the Wolff book went viral as many “verified” smart-set liberals and Trump-haters swallowed it whole. The premise? “It described how the president, on his first night in office, had complained that White House televisions did not carry "the gorilla channel" and that Trump spent hours a day watching gorilla programming his staff subsequently produced to satisfy his simian appetite,” reported Politico. For 17 hours a day, no less.
Those caught blushed sheepishly and made excuses. Having learned nothing, they then went right back at it, lauding and contemplating the importance of Mr. Wolff’s Trump exposé.
In an interview with CNN, Maggie Haberman, a columnist and White House reporter for the New York Times, pulled out her most gentle euphemisms about Mr. Wolff and his flight of fancy, “…[H]e believes in larger truths and narratives. So he creates a narrative that is notionally true, that's conceptually true. The details are often wrong. it's more than -- it's more than not 100 percent true. It's a lot false.”
Mr. Wolff and his book are important, but not for the reasons liberals think. “Fire and Fury” isn’t about the truth of what’s transpiring inside the White House or about Donald or any other Trump. The book itself and the ensuing coverage are confessions that liberals and their media have abandoned reality for a fantasyland of fear, madness and victimhood because, pathetically, it makes them feel better.
In Stephen Glass’ fictionalized memoir “The Fabulist,” when asked why he did it, his protagonist responds, “I lied because I wanted people to love me.” Mr. Wolff must be quite pleased; he is no doubt loved, by everyone who hates the president.