There’s no proof that this is true, of course. It could be that Matt Labash’s acquaintance is BSing him about being one of Wolff’s sources. Or it could be that Wolff independently confirmed the story that Labash’s source told him.
But given the many years of criticism he’s received for dubious sourcing, it rings true. And I heard somewhere recently that if something rings true, it is true.
Twenty years ago, the now-defunct Brill’s Content took a hard look at Wolff’s book Burn Rate, a memoir of his time as a dot-com hustler, and charged that one of his characters was actually a composite of three people. Likewise, seven of Wolff’s main characters and six others who were either portrayed in or familiar with events in his book claimed he “invented or changed quotes,” and none remembered him taking notes on or taping their discussions…
Personally, I’ve enjoyed reading Wolff over the years. You can call him many things (see the preceding paragraph), but never dull. I do not know Wolff nor can I vouch for his credibility. Though I should add that a mutual acquaintance of ours, after spotting an anecdote he’d casually tossed off to Wolff turn up in Fire and Fury, reported this to me of Wolff’s seemingly slack methodology: “[He got it] from me, which I got from a woman on the beach in Florida, who heard it in a carpool line. Literally. I had no idea he was including it. That guy is a serious bullshit artist. Wow.”
Politifact is keeping a list of sloppy errors found in “Fire and Fury,” although the major problem, they correctly note, is Wolff attributing words and even thoughts to people without reason to believe that he was privy to either. He cites three people by name as fact-checkers in the acknowledgments of his book, but in the publishing world fact-checkers tend to answer to the author himself, not to the publisher.
“In my experience, publishing houses rarely, if ever, pay for fact-checking,” said Robert Liguori, a freelance fact-checker who helped verify information in journalist Gabriel Sherman’s biography of Roger Ailes. “I can’t speak to whether any publishers have their own checking departments, but I have never heard of a major publishing house that has an internal staff to check its books.”…
Author and New Yorker reporter Susan Orlean told me that she was “flabbergasted” when she turned in a manuscript for her first book and learned that her publisher did not plan to check her work. But she said she has come to understand that “publishers simply can’t do it.”
“I mean, to properly fact-check a book basically means re-reporting a book,” she said. “That’s how you do it. And a publisher can’t do that, so I don’t think it’s malfeasance on their part or neglect. I think it’s just not practical for them to do it, and they’re assuming that you’ve done it.”
It’s the author who’s typically responsible for hiring fact-checkers, not the publisher, which in this case would mean that “Fire and Fury” was fact-checked only to the extent tht Michael Wolff wanted it to be. What his fact-checkers did or didn’t do to verify his claims might be known only to him and them, and if they’re bound by a NDA, good luck getting them to expose his methods. Even if they’re not bound, ratting out an author for his negligence might render you toxic in the industry. Who would want to hire a fact-checker who’s a risk to turn around after the book comes out and discredit it?
Wolff has one yuuuge factor working in his favor as critics poke more holes in his work, though. With Trump, you can’t rule anything out as being too far-fetched. He’s moved the Overton window for presidential behavior so far already that it’s impossible to dismiss most of the book as inherently incredible. “[S]o much of it is believable,” Labash marvels. “Whether Trump did or didn’t do these things, they’re completely within the realm of possibility.” For instance, here’s a story floating around on NBC’s website this afternoon in relation to Sh*tholegate and Trump’s views on race. It involves a briefing he received last fall from a career intelligence analyst who specializes in hostage policy. Did this happen? I don’t know. Maybe it’s “fake news” planted by one of POTUS’s enemies to make him look bad. Could it have happened? Oh, sure. It’s easy enough to imagine.
“Where are you from?” the president asked, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange.
New York, she replied.
Trump was unsatisfied and asked again, the officials said. Referring to the president’s hometown, she offered that she, too, was from Manhattan. But that’s not what the president was after.
He wanted to know where “your people” are from, according to the officials, who spoke off the record due to the nature of the internal discussions.
After the analyst revealed that her parents are Korean, Trump turned to an adviser in the room and seemed to suggest her ethnicity should determine her career path, asking why the “pretty Korean lady” isn’t negotiating with North Korea on his administration’s behalf, the officials said.
Would a guy who interrupted a White House ceremony for Navajo war heroes to goof on Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren say something like that? Heck, yeah. He might. But did he? Just because it rings true doesn’t mean it is true, yet with Trump the spectrum of gossip that “rings true” is about six times as wide as it is for garden-variety politicians. That means millions of extra dollars in Michael Wolff’s pockets. The hot take on Wolff lately is that he’s done Trump a favor by writing a book whose credibility is deeply in question, since it gives Trump something to point to as an example of how the “fake news media” is out to get him. But Trump does him a favor every day by saying or doing something off-color, like the “sh*thole” comment, that moves the Overton window another few inches. When truth is stranger than fiction, fiction can more easily pass as truth.