by Greg Evans
Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff was giving his umpteenth promotional TV interview this morning when things turned testy with CNN host Michael Smerconish, with the author accusing the host of “doing the job of the White House.”
The exchange grew tense when Smerconish began asking about Wolff’s now-famous access to the White House in researching the tell-all book, questioning Wolff’s previous comment that “I certainly said what was ever necessary to get the story.”
As Smerconish pressed, Wolff asked, “And I’m missing — so what are you implying here?”
The interview hit a peak when Smerconish glanced down and seemed to either read or describe Wolff’s email requests for access to the White House: ” ‘I like Donald Trump. Hey, I want to humanize Donald Trump. I’m the guy who can change perceptions. I’m the guy who can combat the liberal, negative media bias against him.’ ”
After more back and forth, Wolff took his shot, “I think we should point out that someone in the White House is obviously giving you e-mails that I sent, which is perfectly fine, but, you know, the White House has been on a concerted attack on me since this book came out. By the way, a totally incompetent attack, which so far has found a few typos and turned this book into the best-selling book in the world.
“But you are now doing the job of the White House, just so everybody knows that,” Wolff continued.
Smerconish insisted that he read the book and merely had questions as a reader.
“Someone is giving you e-mails that I wrote,” Wolff said. “So, therefore, this is — you’re doing the work of the White House to discredit this book.”
Wolff seemed to be picking up that Smerconish was suggesting something nefarious, as if the author had crossed some line from smooth talking flatterer to outright deceiver in order to gain access, while Wolff continued his insistence that he merely expressed an open mind and a willingness to set aside, for the sake of research and observation, what he believed was the mainstream media’s cynicism toward Trump.
So as a reader of the book, a watcher of this morning’s exchange and a magazine consumer of long memory, I have a question myself: Doesn’t anyone remember Janet Malcolm’s 1989 New Yorker piece The Journalist and the Murderer, in which she examined how author Joe McGinniss, who was researching the book Fatal Vision, cozied up to accused murderer Jeffrey MacDonald only to turn on him when he became convinced that his subject was indeed a sociopath.
Malcolm understood that getting an important story can often be about game-playing or what people now might call code-switching. She began her piece with a killer line: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”
That’s as good a place as any to begin a follow-up conversations between the author and the TV host.