Read That Trump Exposé With a Grain of Salt

When something’s too good to be true, it probably is.

On Wednesday, New York magazine published an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s book about his days spending time around the early Trump administration. Wolff paints the picture of a campaign expecting defeat, of a White House in disarray, and a president incapable of paying attention or doing his job.

The story spread like wildfire, the book’s release was pushed up and it even sparked a war of words between Trump and his former National Security Adviser Steve Bannon, who was quoted directly throughout the piece. Trump put out a statement saying Bannon “lost his mind” when he left the White House, but the way Bannon put it to Wolff, it was the president who was busy talking in circles and eating cheeseburgers in bed.

It’s the kind of content anti-Trumpers love. The excerpt and book as a whole uphold many of the stereotypes and misgivings about Trump as a person. But that’s why everyone raving about it should probably pump the brakes.

Michael Wolff is an accomplished writer and journalist, but he’s also known for playing things fast and loose. He’s been quoted as saying he “creates” interactions and scenarios for which he was not present.

A lot of the book is indeed direct—Wolff says he taped interviews with Bannon and top officials. But these are all people with an agenda, particularly Bannon, who is as slimy as they come. If he was predicting the end of the Trump presidency just a few months in, wouldn’t it behoove him to portray the president as an idiot? Wouldn’t it make him look like the tactical manipulator he so desperately craves to be viewed as?

This isn’t an attempt to knock Wolff’s work or talent. The story is a fascinating read, whether all of it is above board or not. But read it with a certain tinge, and you can almost feel Wolff leaning into what he knows will cause a stir. For example, a few members of the media pointed out the unlikelihood of Trump not knowing who John Boehner is, despite the president golfing with the former Ohio Senator in 2013.

Could this be a sign of Trump dipping into senility? Absolutely. But the chances it’s an out of context quotation (or a completely fabricated one) are high. Here’s another example—Nate Silver pointed out that Wolff took liberties with the summer poll numbers, which were not nearly as wide as he wrote.

And just as a reminder to everyone, Silver added this gem.

Wolff’s excerpt, and perhaps the entire book, are worth reading. They provide perspective from inside the White House that, even if only half true, is insightful. Just make sure you take it in with a heap of salt.

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