Michael Wolff’s explosive new book on the Trump White House, Fire And Fury, has been making headlines for its rip-roaring details. But as we learned from that David Cameron pigfucking memoir a few years ago, these things are usually sprinkled with a few tabloid tricks to make things sound extra juicy.
Not since Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott wrote that book about David Cameron sticking his cock in a dead pig’s mouth has the world so feverishly hankered after a political biography.
As you’ll have no doubt seen, Fire And Fury – Michael Wolff’s story of America’s petulant new president – has been grabbing headlines all over the world for its explosive account of life inside the Donald Trump White House.
The whole thing has gone and got Trump so full of hot piss, that he’s roped in our old friend Charles Harder to try to get the book banned from sale – something which is practically unprecedented in the States.
The First Amendment provides US journalists a lot more leeway in terms of what they can say without fear of getting sued (something Trump is, unsurprisingly, keen to get changed) so Wolff hasn’t had to be quite as cryptic as Ashcroft and Oakeshott when making similarly ballsy claims about David Cameron.
Still, it hasn’t stopped him from using a bit of creative license here and there to make for the most salacious story possible.
So, in much the same way we did with Call Me Dave, we have gone through Fire And Fury to see what tricks and tactics Wolff has employed to make everything seem as juicy as he could.
Defamation laws may differ between the US and the UK in many significant ways, but one thing we both agree on is that you can’t libel the dead. As soon as someone pops their clogs, you are absolutely free to malign them in whichever way you see fit.
Not for nothing then is the recently deceased sexual predator (and former chairman of Fox News) Roger Ailes quoted extensively in this book. In fact, as he’s not around to deny or dispute any of the quotes attributed to him, he ends up with quite a hefty speaking part.
Barely an incident occurs in the book without the ghost of Ailes swinging by to offer his two dead cents.
Ailes constantly appears to provide narration and context for the reader – often with a barbed word or two, to really stick the boot in.
None of these passages is out of character for Roger Ailes. He was, by almost every account, a crotchety old beezer who always thought he knew best. So if Wolff has fabricated any of these quotes (as some of his critics have been inclined to suggest) then he has done a pitch-perfect job.
We’ll never know for sure, however, because the disgraced old fucker has since turned up his toes so isn’t around to correct the record.
How terribly convenient!
Accentuate The Negative
One of the more subtle linguistic tricks that Wolff likes to use is the double negative. It’s a neat way of planting an idea that you want to take hold in the reader’s imagination, without being forced to outright say it.
Consider the two phrases “This was correct” and “This was not incorrect”. Technically, they amount to pretty much the same thing – but there’s actually a gulf between them in terms of how they can be interpreted.
See how they’re used here:
Rather than pay Trump the unequivocal compliment of saying that he was right about something (an admission which sits at odds with the book’s central thesis: that Trump is a gibbering simpleton), Wolff instead says that he wasn’t wrong – somewhat dampening the moment.
He doesn’t just do it with Trump. Elsewhere, he describes Melania as such:
This might seem like a minor point, but if he had written that Melania was “sheltered considerably from the extended Trump family”, that sounds like much more of a bombshell revelation. “Considerably sheltered” gives the impression of a woman actively trying to hide from her husband and stepchildren – which is clearly the seed Wolff wants to plant in our mind, but can’t outright say it. So, instead, he says she is “sheltered, not inconsiderably” – which is far more ambiguous (and, crucially, much harder to argue against).
Or take this little moment with Steve Bannon.
Bannon may well have taken objection to a description which paints him as being “amused” to see his boss in distress. To be “amused” gives us a picture of Bannon callously chuckling at Trump’s horror. But to be “not unamused” is subtly different. It sounds much less severe, but it still hints at the same thing.
Obviously there’s more contentious passages in the book, but if this ever made it to court and a lawyer was called upon to fight this point: could Bannon honestly deny that he was “not unamused”?
Something Less Stupid
A lot of the quotes that have gained traction from this book are ones that involve swearing. This isn’t surprising. We’re suckers for hearing people in power use curse words. So when you read passages like…
…or any of…
While this sort of language might keep vulgar sorts like us happy, the highbrow reader needs something a touch smarter to make them smile. So, in an attempt to appease the New Yorker set, Wolff occasionally sprinkles in an anecdote like this.
Now, we aren’t going to argue that someone on the Trump staff hasn’t called Don Jr and Eric this. It’s perfectly feasible that there’s some Frasier fan in amongst Trump’s appointees who finds this gag tremendously drole.
However if Trump’s staff is as amateurish and ignorant as the rest of the book would have us believe, then the number of people who could
a/ come up with this joke, or
b/ get this joke
So the idea that this secret nickname is commonly used is pushing it a bit. More likely the reason Wolff chose to mention it is to add a bit of intellectual heft to the proceedings. Just so it wasn’t all shits and fucks and cunts.
Why this gag goes unattributed, however, we’re undecided as to why.
Either this is a joke that Wolff himself has come up with, and has included because he’s tremendously proud of himself for thinking of it (which would be absolutely typical of him); or – if not him – it has to have Bannon’s greasy fingerprints all over it.
Wolff wouldn’t be trying to spare Bannon here (if he was considering Bannon’s position, he probably wouldn’t have included the direct quote where he implies that Don Jr is treasonous, unpatriotic and up to his neck in bad shit). More likely, it would be because Bannon has so many of the other choice lines in this book and Wolff simply anonymised it so as to make look like he isn’t leaning too heavily on one source.
Which wouldn’t be the only time he tried this.
Trump has often had cause to bemoan the fact that the Fake News Media™ is forever using unnamed sources to disparage his administration. He says that the quotes are made up and that the sources don’t even exist.
Trump is wrong about that – and Wolff provides plenty of explanation and context for why there have been quite so many anonymous sources in mainstream Trump reporting. Wolff himself has had to attribute some of the quotes in his book to anonymous insiders (or other such people close to Trump) in order to protect their identities. This is standard practice.
There are also moments where he has paraphrased, reimagined, or otherwise quoted hypothetical speech. For example, there’s a section where he describes the type of conversation that Trump make his friends have while he secretly had their wives listening in on speakerphone.
Or the bit where he’s imagining firing people
Sections like these are generally marked out in italics, to indicate the quote is not verbatim. Again, this is standard practice.
But there are also moments where quotes simply appears out of nowhere; unattributed to anyone and without serving any real purpose. For example:
The last person to have been quoted at this point was Mick Mulvaney, but that was in a different section so it definitely isn’t supposed to be him.
It’s possible this quote is meant to be read in the voice of Katie Walsh – Trump’s former Deputy Chief Of Staff, as the section of the chapter deals with her job. It’s not attributed to her directly though and it sits sort of unusually in the middle of a paragraph. Walsh is another of the sources that Wolff returns to frequently throughout the book, so trying to not explicitly attach her name to every quote might make him his pool of sources look a smidge less shallow.
Then again, it’s equally possible it’s a typography error (there are others scattered throughout the book – including one sentence where Trump Tower is temporarily rechristened Trump Towner).
Or it could also be a conscious tactic to lend some imagined weight to what is otherwise pure editorial. Perhaps another little nugget of wisdom from Wolff’s own mind, that he is offering to an anonymous source?
Fire And Fury is available now, online and in all good bookshops. Get it now, before Charles Harder has it obliterated…