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

After several minutes of interrogation about a central drama surrounding his new book, Michael Wolff said this: “I will just clean this up. . . . I do not know if the president is having an affair.” Those comments came in an interview Thursday with Twan Huys of the Dutch TV show “College Tour.” “Do I think he is? I think it would be unlikely that he has suddenly become a faithful husband,” Wolff said. “In that event, I certainly don’t know who he is having an affair with. . . . If I did, it would be in the book.”

That book is “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which is easily the publishing phenomenon of 2018.

In one of his numerous promotional stops for the book, Wolff did an interview with Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Fishing for inflammatory material, Maher got Wolff to say: “There is something in the book that I was absolutely sure of, but it is so incendiary that I just didn’t have the ultimate proof.”

Maher persisted: “Is it a woman thing?” And Wolff responded, “Well, yeah, I didn’t have the blue dress.”

The host then asked whether it’s “somebody he’s f—ing now.” Wolff: “It is.” Then the author provided directions: “It’s toward the end of the book. You’ll know it. Now that I’ve told you, when you hit that paragraph, you’re going to say ‘Bingo.’ ”

Many, many people followed Wolff’s instructions, creating a social media rumor mill. They landed on a section of the book — toward the end, just as Wolff had said — featuring suggestive language about Trump’s relationship with Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada had highlighted that stuff even before Wolff’s interview with Maher:

During an interview with Politico, Haley denied an affair and called the rumors “disgusting.”

In the face of Haley’s strong words, Wolff refused to move. During an interview with theSkimm, he said of Haley, “I would say she seems to have embraced it.” Asked to say more, Wolff continued, “Well, I don’t know. All she does is hammer on this fact. I mean, if I were being accused of something, and I am not accusing her of anything. She hasn’t tried to avoid this, let’s say.” Wolff stuck to his position during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” as well.

The “College Tour” interview, however, which hasn’t yet aired, appeared to discomfit the author. Again and again, Huys pushed Wolff to reconcile how his multimedia stunt — using the book and the Maher interview to cook up an allegation — could be reconciled with journalism class. Asked if he regretted his remark on Maher’s show, Wolff said, “I did not make any remark. I only said that I believe the president, in all likelihood, is involved with someone. And that reflects the gossip in the White House and whether true or not, I don’t know, which is why it is not in the book.”

An audience member stated that “implying” that a woman is having an affair wounds her reputation. To which Wolff replied, “Let me say this as directly as I can. Let’s go right through anybody’s thick skull. I did not — I do not know who Donald Trump is having an affair with, okay?”

Bas Soetenhorst, a journalist with the Amsterdam paper Het Parool, told the Erik Wemple Blog that he was scheduled to interview Wolff on Friday. The appointment was canceled, however, “at the last moment,” Soetenhorst wrote via email. We have asked Wolff’s publicist for comment.

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