What’s the best way to promote an entertainment vehicle? Try to ban it. In what the Washington Post calls “a break in precedent,” the White House and Donald Trunp’s personal legal team has combined to force Henry Holt and Co to cease publication of Fire and Fury, which has now been rushed to the bookstores ahead of schedule:
President Trump marshaled both his West Wing and his personal legal team Thursday against a new book that portrays him and his administration as incompetent and erratic — threatening possible libel charges against its author, its publisher and his former chief strategist, whose provocative comments pepper the book.
In an 11-page letter, Charles J. Harder, a Beverly Hills attorney representing the president, demanded that both Michael Wolff and Henry Holt and Co. — the author and publisher of the forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” — “immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book,” as well as apologize to Trump. The president’s lawyers also requested a complete copy of the book as part of their inquiry.
There’s good news on the last point — they can probably find a complete copy at their local Barnes & Noble by the time the store opens. Otherwise, the likely response from Holt and Wolff will be the legalese equivalent of “pound sand,” if they bother to respond at all. There are very few legal precedents to support a prior restraint of speech, and embarrassment to the president is not one of them, as pretty much every president since Richard Nixon can attest.
It’s very difficult to understand why the White House has taken this step, given its completely predictable futility. All it does is make Trump look impotent and Wolff look important enough to attempt to silence. The media did a pretty good job yesterday raising questions about Wolff’s credibility on its own, efforts that the White House would be better off amplifying.
For instance, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota came out swinging yesterday morning against Wolff for doing little more than regurgitating gossip in Fire and Fury without much effort to confirm his “scoops”:
“We should mention that it sounds like Michael Wolff’s modus operandi was to let the people he interviewed spin yarns,” the “New Day” co-host said, said regarding “Fire and Fury.”
“And then he didn’t necessarily fact-check them. He didn’t necessarily need two sources,” the former “Fox & Friends” host continued.
“This isn’t really journalism. This is a very interesting read but in terms of the way he processed them, he admits in the author’s note that he let people tell their own stories and he printed them,” she concluded.
There have been other critical reviews of Wolff’s journalistic credibility, too, including one from the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi. That should have been the White House’s focus — going after Wolff’s credibility as a journalist. Instead, they’re making him into a First Amendment martyr and raising his journalistic profile.
Michael Wolff himself seems pretty pleased with the effort:
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 5, 2018
Prior restraint efforts almost always backfire, especially because they’re doomed to failure. This will be one book amid an avalanche of others about the Trump administration, and it already seems to be less than reliable. Trump and his White House need to develop a much thicker skin if they expect to endure the next three to seven years in the nation’s biggest fishbowl.