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Opinion Michael Wolff, king of the beat sweetener: ‘I certainly said what was ever necessary to get the story’

Michael Wolff stands in the lobby at Trump Tower in New York in January 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Documenting all the thousands of ways in which President Trump and his team are incompetent or negligent has required a double-overtime effort from the U.S. media for the past year. A focus of this mission in recent days has fallen on why the White House gave access to author Michael Wolff for a tell-all book on the machinations of the White House. The book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” seems on the verge of occasioning a constitutional crisis, so dire is its depiction of presidential puerility.

A note accompanying New York magazine’s excerpt speaks a great deal about how Wolff got in: “Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Wolff says, he was able to take up ‘something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing’ — an idea encouraged by the president himself. Because no one was in a position to either officially approve or formally deny such access, Wolff became ‘more a constant interloper than an invited guest.’ There were no ground rules placed on his access, and he was required to make no promises about how he would report on what he witnessed,” reads the note in part.

As Politico’s Jack Shafer notes, this was dumb on the president’s part. Just scroll back to Wolff’s wooing of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Perhaps because Wolff had written a positive Vanity Fair account of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal maneuvers in 2007, the reporter managed to secure an insane level of access to Murdoch for his book, “The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch.” Along with a surfeit of commas, Wolff showed Murdoch in all his shameless tabloidy wretchedness.

Opinion writers Jonathan Capehart, Molly Roberts, Dana Milbank and Ruth Marcus discuss the potential fallout from Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury." (Video: The Washington Post)

The outlines of this particular hustle vis-a-vis Trump appear in Wolff’s pre-book stories on Trump. The day after Trump’s victory, Wolff’s byline showed up under this Hollywood Reporter headline, “Michael Wolff: Trump Win Exposes Media’s Smug Failures.” Therein, he called the media “the opposition,” perhaps planting a seed for then-White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who months later told the New York Times, “The media here is the opposition party.” Another Wolff beat sweetener landed in Newsweek just after Trump’s inauguration: “Why the Media Keeps Losing to Donald Trump.”

You don’t suppose that headline appealed to the new commander in chief, do you?

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In early February 2017, Wolff was pressed on his access-hungry ways by Brian Stelter, CNN’s top media individual. The longtime author sounded as though he’d just come from a messaging session in the Oval Office. “The New York Times front page looks like it’s 1938 in Germany every day,” said Wolff to Stelter. He also blasted the New Yorker for leaving “all of its standards behind” to bash Trump. Asked about sucking up for access, Wolff responded, “If I’m sucking up a bit to get access, but I’m also trying to — I am the only person, it would seem, who is actually having this conversation and then my conversations with these people then get retailed throughout the media chain.”

In an interview for the “Today” show on Friday, Wolff said, “I’m a nice guy. … I certainly said what was ever necessary to get the story.”

That’s sleazy, greasy, shameless and consistent with journalistic tradition. Among the Erik Wemple Blog’s cherished instances of access-oriented suck-upping is this appeal from longtime magazine writer Hanna Rosin, who was seeking an interview with then-Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Her editors at GQ, wrote Rosin to Scalia, see the jurist as “their best image of themselves, pugilistic and good humored, with an appreciation for a good fight and a good game of poker. I also suspect they admire your writing.” Scalia responded, “If I granted requests on the basis of how alluringly they are presented, I would surely say yes to your wonderful letter. … (‘Pugilistic,’ yet ‘good humored.’ — YES! That’s me! …) Alas … I must say no.”

If only Scalia had harbored Trump’s weakness for flattery.

Read more by Erik Wemple:

With book-blocking effort, Trump is living his authoritarian fantasy

Hannity denies collusion with Trump — by Russia, and himself

Pundit on Fox News: Anti-Trump media is using his words against him

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