Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff – The Phenomenon
Everybody in publishing is talking about the runaway-bestsellerdom-phenomenon of Fire and Fury, a one-year chronicle of Trump’s White House by Michael Wolff, a journalist who once worked for New York Magazine and went on to write unauthorized biographies of, among others, celebrities like Rupert Murdoch. The book on Trump was originally assigned a 150,000 copy print run, but advance word and scandalous sound bites created an unprecedented demand that quickly ate up that six-figure number and brought advance orders up to one million, including six-figure audio-book sales, not to mention perhaps several hundred thousand e-book purchases for readers who can’t wait until the new printing is available.
It’s always challenging for a publisher to run out of copies; even with a rush it usually takes at least a week for a new print run to reach bookstores. The usual fear is in that short period, the demand will die down and sales will drop, although in this case, future sales are almost guaranteed by the storm of relentless publicity and obsessive coverage given the book by the news media.
The most riveting and selling points of the book seem to be Steve Bannon’s harsh criticism of Trump’s family as well as Trump’s presidential capacity and the fact that the author claims he can substantiate that 100 percent of the people working in the White House is worried about Trump’s mental fitness, let alone his ability to fill presidential shoes. These are the sorts of stunning revelations that can make even the most apathetic book-buyer want to get their hands on a copy of Fire and Fury, and this also explains why the book will sell more copies in its first few weeks than any book ever published. Many critics of the book, including the New York Times, say the commercial success is calculated and that the book’s compelling hold on the reading public is at the expense of depth of reporting and accuracy. Wolff, accused in some quarters of media manipulation, has countered that many of his critics can’t report what he has divulged because they have to keep being admitted to the White House day after day. He, on the other hand, hung out, collected what he could and then left the White House, never expecting to return. He claims this allowed him to be hard-hitting, to say things that all the other journalists know but can’t say for fear of unleashing fire and retributive fury from the oval office – how fitting, then the title is. Therefore, critics are taking the author down by impugning the quality of his journalism.
However, without taking any political point of view, or calling Wolff’s reporting or accuracy of fact into question, it’s interesting to ponder the climate that has allowed sales of his book to skyrocket in an unprecedented way. Consider this: that all the news media, whether in favor or not in favor of the president has obsessed on all things having to do with the presidency, which certainly takes up perhaps more time and space in the news cycle than it should and therefore leaves many important reportable events out of public reach. And consider too that this fascinating subject has made money for all the media and that the instant bestseller Fire and Fury is just one example. Journalism may have come into existence to uncover the truth, but it’s also a business and as such must pay for itself. Depending on whom you are speaking to, the truth in certain quarters may today be molded to ensure there is a viable forum tomorrow in which it can be reported.