Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Fire And Fury' Sourcing Under Scrutiny


People were lined up in the bookstores of Washington, D.C. at midnight this week - not for a new Harry Potter, but the White House tell-all "Fire And Fury." The book is filled with rich anecdotes that document dysfunction in the Trump White House and of the president himself. Michael Wolff, the author, finds his reports at the center of the news cycle and a storm. His reporting methods have also come under scrutiny from defenders of the administration as well as other journalists.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from New York. David, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: After a few days of a fire and fury of reporting, what have you seen that is truly new in this book?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think some of the things that it was striking to see were the statements by Steve Bannon, former campaign chairman for the president, former chief strategist - that he felt that the contacts with the Russians during the campaign of Donald Trump, Jr. and others close to the president were possibly treasonous, possibly criminal. That Mark Corallo, who had been a Justice Department senior official and spokesman under George W. Bush and had served as a spokesman and aide to the Trumps, quit in part because he feared that there had been obstruction of justice committed by the president and those around him. That was pretty big.

I also think the fundamental question of those in the president's seeming inner circle and senior positions at the White House of his fitness in office...

SIMON: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: ...You know, that may be voiced by people outside the White House. But to hear that put in the mouths and the minds of those serving the president - that was striking indeed.

SIMON: Let me ask you about Michael Wolff. He's not one of the warm and fuzzy ones. Let me put it that way. And he's known for writing books about people with power and influence. How did he seem to approach this? And I'm amazed that Michael Wolff, of all people, was let close into the Trump circle.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, a couple things. Michael Wolff claims to be amazed as well. He is fascinated by people of power, influence and money. He's drawn to those things, and he's very solicitous of people in those roles. You know, he wrote a biography of Rupert Murdoch, and it was in part because Murdoch was flattered by his attentions and by his expressions of admiration for all Murdoch had accomplished.

Wolff has been a fixture here in New York in media circles for many years - New York Magazine, Vanity Fair. And he knew Trump from that world. It's a tabloid media world that the president emerged from up here in New York. So Wolff was a somewhat familiar figure. He had interviewed the president for one of his perches over at the Hollywood Reporter prior to the election - and favorably so, and admiringly so. And one of the things Wolff had done was castigate the press for treating him as an aberrant figure - divisive, hateful and somehow beyond the pale - in a way that drew confidence from the president and some of his admirers, including Steve Bannon.

So once invited in, you know, the way Wolff describes it, nobody had a central authority to dismiss him and say you can't be here. He said he stood on as many - or he sat on as many couches for as long as he could at the White House day after day, week after week, as he could. And he - you know, he seems to have gotten a lot of people to talk to him.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some of the objections and reservations about the book because we must note they're not coming just from the president's supporters. They're coming from journalists, too.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, journalists, I think rightly, point to the fact that other objections have been lodged to Wolff's books by some of the people who he quoted in them. And, in fact, by the sloppiness that - you know, Wolff's care is not with a pointillist precision with which he renders facts. He gives you a larger narrative, and he does at times get access to major people. I think it's notable that Steve Bannon, who has taken pains this week for all of the caustic things he said about the president in the book, to praise Donald Trump on his radio show, on the Breitbart radio show. You know, Steve Bannon does not disassociate himself, to my knowledge, a single adjective that appeared in "Fire And Fury."

Sam Nunberg, a close aide to the president for a time before quitting and recirculating there, you know, had said at one point, well, you know, it seems like there's poetic license, but what he really has said is some of that stuff was supposed to be off the record. Not that he didn't say it. I think you'll find - and Wolff claims that he has hours of tapes on this stuff - I think you'll find that this stuff will probably stand up in terms of what was said to him. I think some care will have to be given and scrutiny given to the facts as he presents them.

SIMON: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik - thanks so much for being with us.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.