Michael Wolff

You are currently browsing articles tagged Michael Wolff.

In writing for the Hollywood Reporter about falafel fetishist Bill O’Reilly just before he was ousted from Fox News, Michael Wolff, a ghastly man, seems to long for a time when mediocre older white guys could be paid gobs of money from media outlets and treat people any which way they wanted to. Wonder why.

Wolff repeatedly refers to the numerous charges against O’Reilly with wariness (“no trial has occurred, no evidence has been released, no investigators’ conclusions shared”), seeming to forget that actual tapes of O’Reilly’s boorish behavior have been introduced into court. The transcripts are not family reading.

He writes: “It’s a particular sort of irony that Fox, which, to the delight of its audience, built itself on rejecting liberal assumptions, might now be brought down by such a signature liberal assumption: Where there are charges of sexual harassment, there is sexual harassment.”

The journalist also doesn’t mention that O’Reilly has long been an astoundingly hypocritical moral crusader, encouraging corporations to dump celebrities (always African-American ones) whom he deemed sexist. That was the context of Pepsi severing ties with rapper Ludacris in 2002.

When not questioning the accusers’ motives (“plaintiffs come out of the woodwork”), the writer mainly judges the situation on how the changing of the lard will effect the cable channel’s bottom line. It’s understood that THR is a trade publication about the business of show and that’s part of the story he must analyze, but he didn’t have to do so by divorcing basic morality from the situation and ignoring completely the effects of an abusive workplace on those employed there. He instead goes out of his way to be sympathetic to the figure who wielded the power. That was Wolff’s own awful decision.

An excerpt:

Your narrative is your fate. It doesn’t matter if O’Reilly or Ailes did or didn’t do the things they are accused of — no trial has occurred, no evidence has been released, no investigators’ conclusions shared — their real guilt is that people believe they could have.

Confusing matters, the Murdoch sons also see O’Reilly and Ailes as part of a bygone era — their father’s. Pay no attention that it was precisely this sensibility that has been such a powerful audience draw at Fox. (Of note, to the lasting outrage and confusion of liberals, Trump, despite the bygone era suggested by his Billy Bush “pussygate” tape, was elected anyway.) The Murdoch sons, while in important ways financially supported by the profitable, culturally backward views at Fox, see their job as taking the company into a new era.

The sons’ plan was to make Fox the network of Megyn Kelly rather than of Ailes and O’Reilly. That plan foundered on widespread resentment at the network toward Kelly for her part in Ailes’ ouster and on the election of Trump. Suddenly, Fox’s “when America was great and men were men” appeal was even stronger.

One solution has been Tucker Carlson, a conservative but less of a dour, bygone-era one, who has scored significant ratings at 9 p.m. But an important aspect of those ratings is that he is firmly sandwiched between O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Both retro men are, even beyond their huge salaries (nearly $20 million a year for O’Reilly; $14 million for Hannity), vastly rich — O’Reilly, 67, from books; Hannity, 55, from radio and real estate — with dedicated audiences who’d likely follow them wherever. The worry at Fox is that they need Fox less than Fox needs them, and they might soon leave too.

The liberal hope is that media pressure will continue to force advertisers to reject O’Reilly (no matter that liberals have frequently been aghast when conservatives have urged advertiser boycotts of liberal media). But, in fact, so far advertisers have merely moved to other Fox shows, which depend on the O’Reilly spillover audience. If O’Reilly, who is on a pre-planned vacation, returns April 24 and the ratings remain strong, those advertisers likely will be back on his show.

Murdoch Senior has remained largely remote from this dispute, but he reportedly has been paying attention again. He is said to be worried that his sons are moving toward a radical break — “re-imagining Fox,” is what James is said to call it — and hastening the end of an era that, in television terms, so far has been more popular and unyielding than any cozier new one.•

Tags: ,


Media reporter Michael Wolff, the living embodiment of that creaking sound the boat makes just before it capsizes and everyone aboard descends into a watery grave glub glub glub, repaired to Trump Tower to interview Steve Bannon for the Hollywood Reporter. The incoming White House Chief Strategist believes there are too many Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley (which displays a poor grasp of math as well as morality) and, according to charges his ex-wife made during divorce proceedings, did not want his children attending school with Jewish kids. It’s possible her words were misinterpreted because it’s further alleged that he choked her, which is totally bad for elocution.

It’s not exactly Wolff’s most graceful writing, but perhaps the editors all took cyanide tablets when they realized the publication was going to run a piece in which the Breitbart bullshit artist would be able to claim he was an “economic nationalist” rather than a “white nationalist” with no real pushback from Wolff. That’s led to the journalist being heavily criticized for perhaps going easy on Bannon to enable future access. You can understand people being sensitive on the subject since the fake-news impresario has helped select a cabinet racist enough to make Bull Connor blush. 

I wonder if THR actually fact-checked some of Bannon’s more dubious comments, including this one: “[Trump] shows up 3.5 hours late in Michigan at 1 in the morning and has 35,000 people waiting in the cold.” It’s also worth questioning the sanity of someone who’s suffused enough in grandiosity to believe that if his plan works “we’ll govern for 50 years,” as if any one group will. Of course, you might not have your skullcap properly tightened if you’re wishing Andrew Jackson’s legacy on your own boss.

In one exchange, Bannon promises that the Administration will make our era “as exciting as the 1930s,” which sums up my fears exactly.

An excerpt:

Bannon, arguably, is one of the people most at the battle line of the great American divide — and one of the people to have most clearly seen it.

He absolutely — mockingly — rejects the idea that this is a racial line. “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” he tells me. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver” — by “we” he means the Trump White House — “we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years. That’s what the Democrats missed. They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.”

In a nascent administration that seems, at best, random in its beliefs, Bannon can seem to be not just a focused voice, but almost a messianic one:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”•

Tags: ,

After an exhaustive search, Michael Wolff finally located two Americans more unlikable than him–Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton–and he’s not letting go.

Wolff recently wrote a really good Hollywood Reporter profile of Trump, who desperately needs a food taster, but you’ll pry that pint of Häagen-Dazs from his cold, dead hands. In the same publication, he now writes of the final leg of a contest between two figures many voters see as a racist comb over versus a lying pantsuit, though anyone finding parity in the misdeeds of Trump, a virulently bigoted Berlusconi who aims to be a Mussolini, and Clinton, a politically expedient person but a solid Washington practitioner who’ll likely keep the trains running on time, is forcing a false equivalency.

It’s an entertaining piece as Wolff’s always are, though as is often the case with the writer, everyone in the article but him is depicted as an unknowing dolt. Additionally, Wolff’s portrayal of Trump voters as struggling, uneducated whites buys into a narrative that’s way overstated. His line that makes most sense is that it’s odd Hillary seems so driven to be likable in an election where that quality seems to not be an asset. Wolff ultimately gives Trump a greater chance at victory than any other major pundit or pollster.

An excerpt:

The Democrats’ strongest card was to present Trump as an existential threat and to foresee the breakdown of democracy’s fail-safe mechanisms. This also was quite an alarming approach. The guttural “Lock her up!” chants at the RNC seemed extreme enough. But in a way, the Democrats’ position was much more radical. Trump cannot be allowed; Trump is immoral; Trump is — the ultimate disqualifier — insane. In other words, if Duck Dynasty-type voters carry the day in November, that would not be an example of democracy but a failure of it.

The historic departure here is in arguing legitimacy over policies. In this, the Democrats appear to have two fears. The first is that traditional political techniques don’t work anymore and that Trump has significantly more mastery over the new techniques. The Democrats have spent $68 million on advertising so far. Trump: $6 million. How do you fight someone who doesn’t have to spend? The second is that the party’s own policies, pushed left by Bernie Sanders and focused on usually undependable young voters, are up against a backlash that it doesn’t know how to defuse and is opposed to accommodating — a protest vote by culturally adrift, undereducated white voters without precise political moorings, an identity group the Democrats hardly knew had an identity (this already may be a cliched portrait of the Trump voter, a broad approximation of people whom the media doesn’t know). As President Obama acknowledged, seeming to scratch his head, it’s not right nor left anymore, but something much more fundamental and frightening — but beyond that, he seemed as clueless as anyone.

The Democrats’ approach, in a convention whose television ratings outpaced the Republicans until the final day (Trump himself remains a bigger draw than Hillary) was to argue that there is an onrushing Trump apocalypse, but not to address any of the issues causing people to vote for the apocalypse. “Some people are angry, I get that,” said former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, but, more clearly, she was wholly bewildered, and not getting at all — along with the entire lineup of Democratic speakers — whatever it is that’s bothering Trump voters. In fact, if anything, the Democrats doubled down on many of the issues and cultural currents that seem most threatening to the Trump side, rather believing that Trump’s illegitimacy gave them the freedom to go increasingly left.

One drawback of successful propaganda is that instead of fooling everybody else, you only fool yourself.•

Tags: , ,

Imagine Michael Wolff was seated in a Beverly Hills mansion with another person and the media reporter was only the second most evil one in the room. Who could the other dickwad be? Mussolini? Coach Knight? Justin Bieber? A combination of all three, in a sense. It was Donald Trump, the GOP nominee, who answered Wolff’s questions while scarfing down a pint of Haagen-Dazs—vanilla, of course–desperate to add some bulk to his delicate frame.

During the conversation for a Hollywood Reporter profile, Trump acknowledged he’s proud there are machine-gun-toting police surrounding his home and is ebullient about being told by his son-in-law that he might now be the world’s most famous person. That could be true because let’s face it, whether you love or hate Trump, you must admit his Q rating is approaching Hitler territory.

It’s brisk and well-written, as all Wolff pieces are, with Trump coming across particularly badly when unfamiliar with the term “Brexit,” but in all fairness, he was busy all afternoon measuring his penis. Of course, revealing the hideous hotelier as provincial, uninformed and poorly read is like exposing the Pope as male, Catholic and big-hatted.

Two excerpts follow.

I ask if he sees himself as having similarities with leaders of the growing anti-immigrant (some would say outright racist) European nativist movements, like Marine Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy, whom The Wall Street Journal reported Trump had met with and endorsed in Philadelphia. (“Matteo, I wish you become the next Italian premier soon,” Trump was quoted as saying.) In fact, he insists he didn’t meet Salvini. “I didn’t want to meet him.” And, in sum, he doesn’t particularly see similarities — or at least isn’t interested in them — between those movements and the anti-immigrant nationalism he is promoting in this country.

“And Brexit? Your position?” I ask.




“The Brits leaving the EU,” I prompt, realizing that his lack of familiarity with one of the most pressing issues in Europe is for him no concern nor liability at all.

“Oh yeah, I think they should leave.”

It is hard not to feel that Trump understands himself, and that we’re all in on this kind of spectacular joke.•

I ask that de rigeur presidential question, which does not seem yet to have been asked of him. “What books are you reading?”

He knows he’s caught (it’s a question that all politicians are prepped on, but who among his not-bookish coterie would have prepped him even with the standard GOP politician answer: the Bible?). But he goes for it.

“I’m reading the Ed Klein book on Hillary Clinton” — a particular hatchet job, which at the very least has certainly been digested for him. “And I’m reading the book on Richard Nixon that was, well, I’ll get you the exact information on it. I’m reading a book that I’ve read before, it’s one of my favorite books, All Quiet on the Western Front, which is one of the greatest books of all time.” And one I suspect he’s suddenly remembering from high school. But what the hell.•

Tags: ,

Unlike the newspaper and music industries, which were upended by the Internet, the traditional TV model is doing just fine–or really, really not. 

Michael Wolff, the least beloved of all the Muppets, has written a book about the triumph of this hoary medium in the Computer Age, one of two new titles on which Jacob Weisberg bases his wonderfully written NYRB piece “TV vs. the Internet: Who Will Win?” Weisberg notes: “Most commercials are directed at young people, based on the advertising industry’s belief in establishing brand loyalty early. That’s why so much ad-supported programming caters to the tastes of teenagers.”

That’s an interesting companion for this snippet from “Where Did Everybody Go?” an Advertising Age article published today about the paucity of viewers greeting the new season, those remaining on the couch now grayer than Japan: “The most disconcerting PUT (people using television) data concerns younger viewers, who are ditching traditional TV faster than anyone could have anticipated.”

Weisberg is admiring of aspects of Wolff’s book but ultimately thinks “his analysis is too categorical and in places simply wrong.” An excerpt:

Wolff contends that television learned a useful lesson from the gutting of the music industry. The record companies were at first lackadaisical in protecting their intellectual property, then went after their own customers, filing lawsuits against dorm-room downloaders. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, sites hosting videos such as YouTube appeared to be within their rights to wait for takedown notices before removing pirated material. But Viacom, led by the octogenarian Sumner Redstone, sued YouTube anyway. Its 2007 lawsuit forced Google, which had bought YouTube the previous year, to abandon copyright infringement as a business model. Thanks to the challenge from Viacom, YouTube became a venue for low-value content generated by users (“Charlie Bit My Finger”) and acceded to paying media owners, such as Comedy Central, a share of its advertising revenue in exchange for its use of material. “Instead of a common carrier they had become, in a major transformation, licensors,” Wolff writes. Where it might have been subsumed by a new distribution model, the television business instead subsumed its disruptor.

Wolff is dismissive of newer threats to the business. He regards cord cutting—customers dropping premium cable bundles in favor of Internet services such as Netflix—as an insignificant phenomenon. But even if it gathers steam, as recent evidence suggests may be happening, cord cutting leaves Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the largest cable companies, in a win-win position, since they provide the fiber optic cables that deliver broadband Internet to the home as well as those that bring TV. Even if you decide not to pay for hundreds of channels you don’t watch, you’ll pay the same monopoly to stream House of Cards. (This won’t provide much comfort, however, to companies that own the shows, which stand to lose revenue from both cable subscribers and commercials priced according to ratings.)•


Tags: ,

In a Hollywood Reporter piece about the former pride of the peacock, Michael Wolff states the obvious–network news organizations are of little or no consequence apart from in some odd phantom sense–but he makes the case really well. An excerpt:

Maintaining the evening news was perhaps more useful for the corporate agenda than it was as a programming tool or journalistic function. Indeed, despite its 8 million or so nightly viewers and an estimated $200 million in annual ad revenue, Nightly News long has run against the currents of news programming and become quite an organizational sore thumb — a phantom power base that commanded a strange primacy in the corporate bureaucracy. Williams, mostly irrelevant to the overall NBCUniversal bottom line or to the news itself, was yet very powerful.

Each of the networks has, over the past decade or more, made tentative efforts toward disbanding the evening news or combining it with cable operations, or, in many variations of this deal discussion, partnering with CNN. In effect, everybody recognized that the nature of newsgathering had profoundly changed and that networks could not compete (or had no interest in competing) as all-purpose news organizations. But in the end, nobody wanted to take the PR hit for killing the news, or lose the PR advantage in having it.

Until Williams, once the ultimate PR asset, became the ultimate PR nightmare.•

Tags: ,

I check the U.S. version of the Guardian site several times a day, something I can say about few other three-year-old publications–or ones of any vintage. It’s smart and brisk and the Edward Snowden story placed it at the center of global media landscape, even if the scoop didn’t actually produce revenue, something that was pointed out by Michael Wolff, when he briefly took a break from his busy schedule of farting into the open mouths of sleeping babies. Although the publication can rely on its considerable trust for the next several years, it will eventually have to divine a way to turn quality journalism into profit. It has plenty of company in trying to piece together that puzzle.

Joe Pompeo, the excellent media reporter for Capital New York, has an interview with Guardian veteran Katherine Viner, who’s taking over the expanding American operation. An excerpt:

“Where does Guardian U.S. go from here? ‘Onwards and upwards and much bigger,’ Viner told me in her first interview of the new gig. It’s a tall order, and one that will place her under the microscope of skeptics questioning whether a big play for U.S. scale is worth the costs associated with such an effort—never mind that The Guardian has the luxury of being owned by a trust created expressly to ensure its survival while preserving editorial independence. (Look no further than Guardian Media Group’s whopping $1 billion sale this past January of its stake in Trader Media Group.)

In a June feature for British GQ, media critic Michael Wolff made a case that The Guardian’s sustained investment in the Snowden story for much of 2013 and 2014 stilted the New York newsroom’s broader mission without a real business benefit. ‘The success of the Snowden story, at the expense of the New York operation, has many people in the Guardian U.S. constellation … wondering about the future of New York,’ wrote Wolff, whose account was published a few months after his column for Guardian U.S. came to an end.

Viner offered a different take on the current moment and what The Guardian’s Snowden coverage has achieved in the U.S. ‘It means the site’s got this massive profile now,’ said the optimistic editor, ‘and I can build on that success, expand our coverage into lots of areas and deepen our relationships with American readers.’

She wouldn’t get into the nuts and bolts, telling me she didn’t want to publicize them in an article before having discussions with staff. She did however say that Guardian U.S. is ‘in a period of ambitious growth, and we are working on a number of serious plans.’Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger was ever so slightly more specific when I pressed him for details. Speaking by phone one night while on vacation in Tuscany, fireworks whizzing overhead, the 60-year-old said there are two U.S. expansion plans that Viner will be working on pending final board approval in mid-November. ‘It will get bigger,’ he said. ‘We’re just not ready to say in what ways.'”

Tags: , , ,

In his latest compulsively readable GQ article, “What Does the Future Hold for the Guardian?” Michael Wolff analyzes the British publication’s attempt to globalize itself and win the United States, to less-than-mixed financial results. The Snowden story, as important as it may have been, could not be monetized, and the company continues to hemorrhage cash. Wolff finds the the Guardian’s singular editor, Alan Rusbridger, “unpleasant” in his lack of transparency, whereas Wolff is unpleasant for the opposite reason. An excerpt about Rusbridger, who, by virtue of the publication’s unusual financial arrangement, is a throwback to an earlier era:

“While the Guardian has a business staff with a CEO, and is overseen by trustees with ultimate responsibility, it has one real power centre, strategic thinker and moral compass: its editor, Alan Rusbridger. (A kind of preternatural consensus surrounds Rusbridger, but underneath him the Guardian is a fraught political cauldron, with underlings struggling to align with him, stay in his favour and undercut everyone else who is trying: ‘a nest of vipers,’ in the description of an outside consultant brought in to work on one of the paper’s big redesign projects.)

The 60-year-old Rusbridger is, surely, among the most talented newspaper editors of his generation (the other, at the opposite end of the news and philosophical spectrum, is Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail) and, as well, the most opaque, sending cryptic messages in a cipher which no one person can completely decode.

An hour with him is both unpleasant in the exertions required to penetrate his lack of transparency and fill the conversational void and, yet, at the same time, uplifting and restorative. The vacuum that surrounds him somehow seems to represent moral superiority and it draws you in. Six different people of high rank at the paper have said to me, on different occasions, the following words: ‘I would do anything for Alan.’ These are not words you usually hear in a modern company; they are not even credible. But they suggest the Guardian’s sense of purpose and the potency of its Kool-Aid. (I once sat next to Rusbridger’s wife at a Guardian dinner; she kept referencing what seemed like a wholly different person, a normal, fallible, workaday chap named ‘Al.’ Weird.)

His is an absolute, pre-modern sort of power, faith-based and exclusionary. You believe or you don’t. You are in or you are out. You are family or you are not. Emily Bell, once a potential Rusbridger successor, who was at the Guardian for the better part of two decades (coming in through the Guardian’s acquisition of the Observer- ever an unresolved relationship), told me, after she left several years ago to take a teaching position in the US, “I never really was an insider.”

Rusbridger has run the place since 1995 and, in some less-than-rational way, its future exists wholly in his head or at his whim. Not only is there enormous deference to him and dependence on him, but a sense of the abyss at any suggestion that he might leave (he is often suggested for eminent positions at places like the Royal Opera House).

Rusbridger has maintained two dominant ideas about the Guardian’s future: going digital and going to the US.”

Tags: ,

In the big picture, tearing down a system where power to disseminate information was in the hands of the relative few is a good thing, but revolutions are rarely bloodless. The death of print was in the works for decades, but no one has yet figured out the new landscape. Two quotes:

From Stewart Brand in 1972:

“One popular new feature on the Net is AI’s Associated Press service. From anywhere on the Net you can log in and get the news that’s coming live over the wire or ask for all the items on a particular subject that have come in during the last 24 hours. Project that to household terminals, and so much for newspapers (in present form). Since huge quantities of information can be computer-digitalized and transmitted, music researchers could, for example, swap records over the Net with ‘essentially perfect fidelity.’ So much for record stores (in present form).”

From Michael Wolff in 2014:

“[Politico] did usurp The Washington Post, so they took what was essentially a 2 billion dollar business and replaced it with a business that does 25, 30 million dollars in revenue. So that’s kind of the paradigm. You take these businesses that were real businesses, incredibly valuable businesses, and you create that same function with businesses that are essentially trivial.”


The problem with pundits is that it almost doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong, provided that they have a forceful personality and can put on a show. The news keeps cycling, its white noise drowning the wrong-headed shouts that should have been embarrassing, that should have carried consequences. In a new GQ postmortem, Michael Wolff points out that despite popular opinion, Christopher Hitchens was just as much of a toolbox as he is. An excerpt:

“This transformation from political irregular and zealous polemicist to towering moral figure was curious, if not amazing, to many people (perhaps all of us) whose careers had intersected with his. How did the character actor become a leading man? How did the fool become a sage? And what about the bad stuff? Not just his full-throttled embrace of the Bush war but, before that, his casual and convenient betrayal of his friend, Hillary Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, back in the Monica Lewinsky days. Or his take on Bill Clinton, as virulent as that of the most kooky right-wingers. Or his weirdly tolerant relationship with some of the era’s most infamous Holocaust deniers. These are the kind of epochal contretemps that, in the chattering class, usually make for deep enmity rather than enduring love.

Then, too, this sui generis British figure, full of British class issues, British political hair-splitting, British literary conceits, and plummy accent to boot, became, in his transmutation, a super-American – a gunslinger journalist.

What was the nature of Hitchens’ alchemy?

He was, self-styled, a writer engaged with his time, a bookish man called to join the day’s great and bloody battles of conscience. But really his issues were largely of another era: internecine squabbles on the left; a Cold War attention to the world’s geo-sectarian divisions; God’s existence… or not. He never much grappled with technology, or money, or media, or the developing world’s rising middle class – influences that, surely, were remaking the world a lot faster and a lot more profoundly than his long- time preoccupations.

He saw himself as a Sixties guy, even making the case that he was a significant figure in the tumultuous period from 1966 to 1968: ‘I did my stuff in helping my American comrades discredit first President Johnson and then President Nixon.’ Although, in fact, he was still a teenager in 1968. (‘If you remember the Sixties,’ in Robin Williams’ famous formulation, ‘you weren’t there.’) His was a nostalgic show.”

Tags: ,