Journalist Michael Wolff has never been one to shy away from controversy.
And with his latest book — an inside look at the Trump White House — the pugnacious New Yorker has ignited the biggest firestorm of his career.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was to go on sale next week but its release date was moved up to January 5 due to what the publisher said was “unprecedented demand”.
Excerpts from the bombshell book have already appeared in several media outlets, prompting a fast, fiery and furious reaction from the White House.
President Donald Trump declared the book “phoney”, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders dismissed it as “complete fantasy” and a Trump attorney sought to halt publication of the “libellous” tome.
All of which was music to the ears of a seasoned provocateur like Mr. Wolff as he watched the book rocket to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list. “Couldn’t be happier (obviously) with coverage of FIRE AND FURY,” he tweeted on January 4.
Mr. Wolff, 64, revels in the reputation he has forged over the years of being a blunt-spoken contrarian unafraid to tweak the powerful.
Born in New Jersey and educated at Columbia University, Mr. Wolff made his name as the media columnist for New York magazine. He has since written for numerous other magazines including Vanity Fair , Newsweek and The Hollywood Reporter , twice winning National Magazine Awards for commentary. In 2007, he launched a news aggregation website, Newser.com, which has enjoyed only modest success.
A well-known figure on New York’s glitzy social scene, Mr. Wolff is instantly recognisable because of his bald pate and black horn-rimmed glasses.
Taking readers behind-the-scenes
Before the Trump book, Mr. Wolff was perhaps best known for his 2008 no-holds-barred biography of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, The Man Who Owns the News .
Like Fire and Fury , the Murdoch book purported to take readers behind the scenes and show the inner workings of his organisation.
For the Trump book, Mr. Wolff claimed he was granted extraordinary access and took up “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing”.
Writing in The Hollywood Reporter , Mr. Wolff said the book was the product of “more than 200 interviews with Trump and senior staff over a period of 18 months”. The resulting portrait is of a “surreal” White House plagued by inexperience, factional fighting and a president who acted repeatedly “like a child”.
“To say that no one was in charge, that there were no guiding principles, not even a working org chart, would again be an understatement,” Mr. Wolff writes. After a year in the White House, Mr. Trump’s staff — and even members of his family — “all —100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job”, he adds.
In seeking to halt publication of the book, Mr. Trump’s attorney claimed it makes “numerous false and/or baseless statements” about the President.
‘Pushing the facts’
Besides the White House, a number of critics have emerged to dispute some of Mr. Wolff’s reporting — which, they note, has come into question in the past. According to his critics, The Washington Post said, “Wolff has a penchant for stirring up an argument and pushing the facts as far as they’ll go, and sometimes further than they can tolerate.”
Mr. Wolff claims in the book, for example, that Mr. Trump purportedly did not know who John Boehner was after it was suggested that the former House Speaker serve as his chief of staff. Mr. Trump, in fact, has played golf with Mr. Boehner and has also tweeted about him.
Thomas Barrack, a close friend of Mr. Trump, denied a claim in the book that he had told another friend that the President is “not only crazy, he’s stupid”.
Other denials may be hard to disprove.
According to veteran Washington journalist Mike Allen of Axios.com, Mr. Wolff has tapes to back up quotes in the book — “dozens of hours of them”.
“That’s going to make it harder for officials to deny embarrassing or revealing quotes attributed to them,” Mr. Allen said.