He’s the second person in a hot media spotlight in less than 24 hours to casually undermine the idea of objective truth. The other, of course, was the 46th president of the United States.
“If it rings true, it is true” may be the most Orwellian defense of slovenly reporting since the immortal “fake but accurate” line from the Rathergate days. This isn’t the way journalistic ethics are supposed to work, gasps an exasperated Haley Byrd of the Weekly Standard. It is if you want to sell a million copies, I guess. In fact, “if it rings true, it is true” is about as perfect a summation as you could ask for of the concept of confirmation bias. If you already hate Trump, the mix of fact, rumor, and third-hand smear in Wolff’s book, all relentlessly damning of the White House, is a political banana split with extra hot fudge. Nothing that tastes this good could possibly be bad for you!
Media critic Jay Rosen speculated over the weekend that, ironically, Wolff may have begun his book hoping to cater to the opposite confirmation bias. He may have sought insider access to the White House in hopes of producing an argument that Trump was smarter and savvier than everyone had given him credit for, most of all the mainstream media. MAGA nation would have feasted on that; instead of doing segments with Joe Scarborough and Katy Tur, Wolff would be doing the “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity” circuit. (Sebastian Gorka even let slip today that someone in the White House — Bannon? Priebus? Trump himself? — told him to speak to Wolff, although he declined, he says.) What he found inside the West Wing was more chaos and backbiting than he’d expected, so he wrote the antithesis of the book he’d planned, a complete hatchet job on the president and his staff. Either way, confirmation bias was going to make him rich.
That’s just Rosen’s theory, as I say, but it rings true. And if it rings true, it is true, right?
The most amazing line in Wolff’s interview with Tur isn’t the one about truth, actually, it’s where Tur presses him to release the recordings of his interviews to counter some of the Trump staffers who are disputing his account — which Wolff declines to do, insisting that he and Tur aren’t quite in the same line of work. “I’m not in your business,” he tells her. “My evidence is the book.” What business is Wolff in, exactly? If journalism is about truth, his work is about … oh, let’s call it truthiness for lack of a better term. It sure is interesting that a guy who’s just rocked American politics with a Trump expose and who claims to have the receipts on his sourcing doesn’t want to show them and doesn’t even want to claim to be a journalist. That sounds like a man with some serious jitters about what an ethics review of his work might turn up.
That’s the first clip. The second, via the Free Beacon, is Tur actually congratulating him on the fact that Trump hates his work. She and Wolff are in the same business after all.