Any producer will tell you that one key to a successful story — whether it’s in a book, on stage, in the movies or on TV — is having at least one sympathetic character. The “Fire and Fury” saga proves that rules are meant to be broken. The new release from Michael Wolff is a highly entertaining account of the Trump administration that is already a best-seller, even though all the leading characters are decidedly unsympathetic.
There’s Steve Bannon, the slovenly right-wing extremist who was Donald Trump’s brain for a while, but is now on his snit list. Trump has even slimed him with a nickname: “Sloppy Steve.” Of course there’s Trump himself, who was portrayed as being, in the words of one Cabinet-level member of his administration, “dumber than s—t.” Other top staff people used words like “dope,” “idiot,” “moron,” “a child” and all sorts of other colorful descriptions that came down to his being mentally defective.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget the author, Wolff, who personifies to many the stereotypical smarmy journalist who gets people to confide in him, but then breaks their trust by going public with their off-the-record comments. He’s also been long accused of making things up when necessary. Apparently, he didn’t make up all the comments from Steve Bannon, who was fired a few months back from the Trump White House and now is definitely in the Trump doghouse. In fact, the initial reaction to his quotes in the book brought a typically subtle reaction from the president: “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” As I said, subtle as usual.
But then, Bannon had just trashed the Trump kids: Ivanka “dumber than a brick,” but wants to run for president one day; her husband Jared totally sweating investigations into money laundering; his son Don Junior’s meeting with Russians “treasonous.” And then there is Daddy Trump himself, described throughout as pathetically over his head intellectually. Sloppy Steve now has been bullied into groveling, expressing “regret” for all that he said. He doesn’t deny any of it, possibly because he was taped by Wolff.
President Trump and his peeps have gone into overdrive. His personal lawyers predictably threatened legal action, which is boilerplate Donald. When he’s not amused with what someone says, his legal team threatens litigation, usually sending out a “cease and desist” letter. That is where the attorneys demand that someone, anyone, immediately “cease and desist” saying whatever has displeased Trump. Or else. In this case, the letter also demanded that the publisher not release the book, which hadn’t even come out yet. Naturally, the publisher moved up the release to take full advantage of all the free publicity.
Take it from me, as a newsman who has done tons of stories about all manner of political sleazebags: A “cease and desist” letter is generally absolute proof that my coverage was accurate and struck a nerve. It’s sort of like declaring an unfavorable report “fake news,” which means it’s right as rain. Or when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denies something. Anything. She calls Wolff’s book “tabloid trash.”
That proves still again that one person’s trash is another one’s treasure. But she needn’t bother defending the boss. He’s perfectly capable of embarrassing himself. When it came to the charges that he’s erratic and not smart enough, the president assured us in a tweet that he was a “genius … and a very stable genius at that!” Speaking for all Americans, I’m certainly glad he cleared that up.
The other geniuses in his stable might want to learn a lesson from all this, which is that when you’re in public life, anything you do and anything you say is potentially public. Duh. But because they didn’t heed that obvious warning, they have provided us some great entertainment. It’s a wildly successful situation comedy — or situation tragedy.