How Wolff Got His Story Is As Important As What He Wrote

There has been a raging debate about whether or not all of the material in Michael Wolff’s book measures up to journalistic standards. I’m going to put that question aside for a moment because I’m more interested in what his access says about the Trump administration.

One of the White House’s initial charges against the book was that Wolff didn’t have the access he claims to have had. Yesterday Sebastian Gorka pretty much drove a stake through that argument by writing that he had been told to speak to Wolff for the book.

The author himself told Chuck Todd that he didn’t have an agenda when he first visited the White House, but he also admitted to Samantha Guthrie that he would do anything to get the story. We don’t know what he told the president or anyone in the administration about his intentions, but we do know that within days of the inauguration, he wrote about how the media was losing the war with Trump and told Brian Stelter that they were having a nervous breakdown over Trump and should instead be covering him like they would any other new president. I’m sure that was music to the president’s ears. Around the same time, Wolff wrote a rather glowing profile of Kellyanne Conway, just as she was making a name for herself on television as the one who defended Trump’s “alternative facts.”

Regardless of what Wolff claims about his own motives for doing all of that, it sent a clear message to the White House that he had the one thing Trump looks for in allies: loyalty to Trump. So it is no surprise that he was given access. He had done what was necessary to ingratiate himself with the president. Obviously, things didn’t work out the way the White House had planned.

I am once again reminded of what psychiatrists told Richard Greene about interacting with people who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

There are only two ways to deal with someone with NPD, and they are both dangerous. There is no healthy way of interacting with someone with this affliction. If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential. If you compliment them it only acts to increase the delusional and grandiose reality the sufferer has created, causing him to be even more reliant on constant and endless compliments and unwavering support.

Obviously, Wolff chose the second option and it gave him the kind of access he needed to write his book. That is a fact. The question for journalists is whether that is an acceptable strategy to use with this president. Drew Magary answers in the affirmative.

[Wolff] did it by sleazily ingratiating himself with the White House, gaining access, hosting weird private dinners, and then taking full advantage of the administration’s basic lack of knowledge about how reporting works. Some of the officials Wolff got on tape claim to be unaware that they were on the record. Wolff denies this, but he’s very much up front in the book’s intro about the fact that he was able to exploit the incredible “lack of experience” on display here. In other words, Wolff got his book by playing a bunch of naive dopes.

Thank God for that. Wolff has spent this week thoroughly exploiting Trump and his minions the same way they’ve exploited the cluelessness of others. And he pulled it off because, at long last, there was a reporter out there willing to toss decorum aside and burn bridges the same way Trump does.

I’m not so sure. I never react positively to advice that suggests we should join opponents in the gutter just because that is where they dwell. But it’s hard to argue with the outcomes Wolff achieved.

The more important takeaway is what this says about how the current occupant of the White House is so easily played. We’ve seen foreign leaders in countries from China to Saudi Arabia do the same kind of ingratiating with Trump, and he positively eats it up. There is no mystery to how they can go about playing this president to get exactly what they want. All it takes is tapping into that need for ego validation, and Trump is willing to give away the store in return.

But it’s not just foreign leaders who are singing this tune. Wolff himself writes that Trump hated Paul Ryan until the Speaker came to the White House to grovel and kiss ass. CNN reports that this is exactly what is happening with Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham. Their motives are no different than those of the leadership in China and Saudi Arabia: to play an unfit president on the assumption that it will get them what they want (i.e., tax cuts, entitlement cuts, military spending).

In the end, Wolff used the access he got via this game in order to expose the truth about this administration. That isn’t what foreign leaders or Republicans are after. They’re playing him to get what they want. The fact that this president makes himself vulnerable to that kind of tactic is yet another example of why he is unfit to serve.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .