January 14, 2018


'Every era gets the Boswell it deserves' (Nausicaa Renner and Pete Vernon, JANUARY 5, 2018, CJR)

Access journalism, at its best, does not replace other forms of journalism--it augments it. And one could argue that Wolff never could have written his book without the hard work of journalists over the past year; the fire he catalogs was often fueled by stories from mainstream reporters.

Wolff deserves credit for producing a thoroughly readable portrait of the Trump administration's chaos and lack of preparedness.

Journalists in 2017 experienced, in many ways, a boom period and also an incredibly unusual one. Times reporters--and many others at outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, Axios, and The Daily Beast--have become something like celebrities. The top levels of the mainstream press have enjoyed far more money and attention than in recent history. Trump's attacks are a badge of honor for those trying to hold him accountable. Maggie Haberman, the breakout star of the Trump era, was characterized as a snake charmer by Slate.

Access journalism is often disparaged because of the compromises it requires, but concerns that Wolff's access to Trump would result in pulled punches have proven unfounded. Switch out the name of the subject, and the venerable media critic David Carr's begrudging approval of the author's 2008 biography of Rupert Murdoch could be printed today: "Much was made of Wolff's alliance with Murdoch, that it would lead to complicity and sycophancy, but Wolff remains true to his nature, which is joyously nasty."

Wolff deserves credit for producing a thoroughly readable portrait of the Trump administration's chaos and lack of preparedness. He appears to have played a monster hand of access journalism poker, bluffing his way into the good graces of the administration by attacking mainstream reporters for critical reporting in the early months of the Trump presidency only to rake in the pot by producing a devastating account of those who considered him a sympathetic observer. He's going to gain a lot of notoriety and make a ton of money.

But he also played a nefarious role in discrediting real reporting by hardworking journalists through his self-interested critiques. Just after the 2016 election, Wolff lambasted the entire industry, telling Digiday, "The media hasn't done its job. It's abdicated its responsibility, has lost itself somewhere." After Trump's inauguration, he wrote a column blaming journalists for abandoning basic principles, and followed that up by going on CNN and calling Brian Stelter, "quite a ridiculous figure." In that same conversation, Wolff admitted he was "sucking up a bit to get access." That brown-nosing seems to have paid off, as Wolff acknowledges in a passage describing Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks confiding in "a journalist they regarded as sympathetic."

It is because he does not have to cover the Oval on a daily basis that he could compromise his sources so flagrantly.  He's done with them. Beat journalists have to get the next story, so they end up compromising themselves to some degree. 

Posted by at January 14, 2018 8:11 AM