Melania’s tears and late-night hamburgers: The best parts of Wolff’s tell-all Trump book.

Video via BBC News

Steve Bannon’s lost his post at Breitbart News. The secret to Donald Trump’s combover has been exposed by Ivanka. More and more articles are being written about the President’s mental fitness. Donald Jnr stands accused of potentially treasonous behaviour. The president likes to eat cheeseburgers and watch Fox News in bed. (Replace Fox News with Netflix and truly, this is a man of the people.) Everyone in the White House thinks the Commander in Chief is a fool.

If, by now, you haven’t heard about journalist Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, you might not know what the cause of this latest tsunami of Trump-based controversy is about, or how it started.

Listen: Mia Freedman and Amelia Lester unpack the most explosive talking points from Michael Wolff’s book. (Post continues after audio…)

Wolff kicked off 2018 with a bang. Advanced excerpts of his book, and accompanying articles about the book with additional material he hadn’t included dropped in New York Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and other places in the first days of the new year.

The President was not happy.

Whats in the book?

The stories included a meticulously detailed account of the Trump campaign and the belief within it that there was no chance Donald could win the presidency. His strategy, according to Wolff, and the strategy of those around him, was to run to lose and reap the benefits of the publicity. No one, not even his wife and children, thought he could beat Hillary Clinton.

And then, he did. According to Wolff, the news stunned Trump to silence and reduced Melania to tears. The team he assembled for the executive branch of US government didn’t think he was up to the task of governing. Rupert Murdoch apparently ended a phone call with Trump and remarked, “What a f*cking idiot”.

Even the detail about Trump’s combover came with a pointed dig about his inability to be patient.

“[Ivanka] often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean plate—a contained island after scalp reduction surgery—surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men—the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond hair color.”

There are also extensive interviews with Steve Bannon, which have not been refuted by Trump’s one-time close adviser. Those interviews provide the book’s insights into the way the White House has responded to the ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign for colluding with Russia, and the comments in the book have led to Bannon breaking completely with the White House, and being forced from his post as Executive Chairman at Breitbart News.

Bannon did attempt to stem the damage from the quotes, particularly the ones about Donald Jnr’s meeting with Russians that has become a focus of the special investigation into the campaign.

But it was too little too late, Trump leant on important Breitbart backers and Bannon was given the heave-ho.

The Trump backlash

Journalists began to receive copies. The reviews and commentary started up. Wolff, while he’d been given remarkable levels of access, admits in his author’s note that not everything in the book is true.

“Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. These conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book,” he wrote.

donald trump steve bannon
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon before his dismissal as Chief Strategist. Image via Getty.

“Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances I have, through a consistency in the accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”

Trump’s White House has described the book as a work of fiction and Trump has lashed out at it on Twitter more than once.

There’s also little doubt that the book and the subsequent publicity surrounding it prompted the extraordinary series of tweets the president sent about being “a very stable genius”.

Trump also sent a cease and desist letter to the book’s publisher’s and denied that he had spoken with Wolff for the book. But the publishers responded to Trump by moving up the book’s publication date, and Wolff said he’d sat down with Trump for three hours for the book. He’s also said he has tapes of conversations with other White House advisers, potentially muddying any attempts by his sources to distance themselves from their alleged comments.

So, how much of it is true?

It’s not easy to answer this question. Reporters who cover the White House say the book is a mixture of fact and fantasy. Wolff says he doesn’t know for sure that what his subjects told him is the truth.

But there is a grain of consistency within his book and the reporting on the White House from the beginning.

That it is a place at the whim of a man whose capriciousness and lack of attention are famed, is not really disputable. That the people who surround Trump like to create their own narratives and give them to journalists is also not in dispute. The level of leakery the administration has to deal with is proof enough of that.

Listen to Mia Freedman and US Journalist discuss this week's White House happenings in full on the latest episode of Tell Me It's Going To Be OK. (Post continues...)

That Trump himself seems irritated, provoked, frustrated by the book might also suggest he recognises some truths in it. Although, how much of it the President has read—him, a notorious non-reader—is not really known.

Journalists who cover the White House day in and day out have been tweeting their disputes with some of the factual errors and unsubstantiated claims.

Some of the book is undoubtedly untrue, gossip passed on to benefit the person telling the story. Some of it is certainly true in that it was witnessed by Wolff. But the inescapable truth of this book is that it is an absurd, terrifying portrait of a dynastic oligarchy that seems… plausible. Which is what makes it so damaging.

From Wolff himself: “Perhaps not since the Tudors has palace intrigue been so corrosive and lethal, nor the king so volatile and so in need of instant gratification.”

Yikes.

You can buy Fire and Fury in stores now, if you want to be even more worried about the state of the world.

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