I have to admit that I bought a copy of Fire and Fury inside the Trump White House. I’m not a Trump fan and I wanted to see how bad it really is. The book is written by Michael Wolff, based on over two hundred interviews and and two hundred days in the White House, ending with the appointment of General John Kelly as chief of staff and the departure of Steve Bannon.. Mr Wolff claims that he had the agreement of the President to be a sort of fly on the wall, beginning during the campaign, though the President has denied ever speaking to Wolff.
Michael Wolff does not have a gold-plated reputation as a journalist. The Independent said : “He became well-known for writing that explored the lives of the rich and powerful, often written with colourful and bombastic language. His New York Magazine column, “This Media Life”, explored a world of which he was very much a part – he has surfaced periodically in the New York Post’s Page Six, a gossip hub for the city. . . While he achieved prominence and visibility with his work, Mr Wolff is not necessarily beloved by his compatriots in the media world. And he has embraced that, as shown by a past book featuring blurbs that excoriated him as toxic. “Far less circumspect – and sometimes more vicious – than the other journalists,” The New York Times is quoted as saying. “Possibly the bitchiest media bigfoot writing today,” suggested The New Republic. “This Wolff excerpt (the book) has a 500-word-long chunk of recreated verbatim dialogue between Bannon and Ailes,” The New York Time’s Nick Confessore wrote. “Come on”. But it turns out that Wolff hosted the dinner for six at this Manhattan town house. “I was one of the 6 guests at the Bannon-Ailes dinner party in January 2017 and every word I’ve seen from the book about it is absolutely accurate. It was an astonishing night,” Janice Min said.”
The reader has to decide for herself whether every word in the book is the unvarnished truth. There are relatively few direct quotations from named individuals. Further, there are almost no kind words for anyone in the book: can everyone in the White House be that bad? However, the preponderance of hear-say evidence in the book points overwhelmingly to the President’s short-comings in the vital learn-analyse-act-review cycle that leaders must master to be fully effective. In particular, the Learn and Analyse stages are almost void. He does not read memoranda longer than two pages (and those, reluctantly). His preferred style of information gathering is watching television and speaking on the telephone with friends. Reportedly, he has an aversion to ‘experts’, and tends to be swayed by the last person he spoke with on the subject. Analysis is also a weakness (though to put it in context, perhaps Obama sometimes seemed to engage in analysis-paralysis), as numerous examples were cited of the President referring decisions to others. Act, unlike Obama, is one of Trump’s strengths (though this is not mentioned in the book); one has to only count the record number of presidential orders that he has signed. And, as to Review, no examples are given but, in fairness, it may be too early to review many of the actions taken. Overall, one has the impression of a man with an enormous, but very fragile ego.
If one has been reading the daily newspapers and watching the evening news, there isn’t much in the way of surprises in this book. However, until reading it, I did not appreciate the extent to which Trump did not expect to win (nor did he want to win) the 2016 election. The win he wanted was all the publicity with no follow-on consequences.