The political tell-all has become a lucrative option for former politicians, hacks, and hangers-on who wish to turn onetime proximity to power into a big payday.
In just the last year, Barack and Michelle Obama inked a post-White House joint memoir deal that included a reported $65 million advance, and Hillary Clinton has already begun monetizing her 2016 loss by way of an attempted explanation, What Happened. Former DNC Chair Donna Brazile recently weighed in with her own account of 2016, Hacks, and a rash of similar books by former Obama administration aides and 2016 campaign staffers led The New York Times to ask in July,“Is everyone in politics writing a tell-all?” (Answer: yes.)
This leads us to a pair of particularly suspect entrants to the genre: former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and onetime deputy campaign manager David Bossie. The first snippets of their book, Let Trump Be Trump, started dribbling out over the weekend. It seems obvious that you should think twice before believing anything in the book, but some of our biggest media outlets appear to be doing just that.
The men helped organize a historically dishonest presidential campaign. Lewandowski physically grabbed a relatively friendly reporter, from Breitbart, and then lied about it. After he was sacked by the campaign, he was hired by CNN as an on-air analyst despite some sort of non-disparagement agreement with Trump, and spent the rest of the campaign disingenuously flacking for the GOP nominee.
Lewandowksi and Bossie have every right to pen a self-serving and enriching memoir. This is the swamp, after all. They don’t deserve to be portrayed as reliable narrators or feted by the same people for whom they showed such contempt.
And yet, on Monday, Today’s Savannah Guthrie introduced the men as authors of “the true insider’s account of the campaign,” later calling the book “honest.” Politico, an outlet whose reporters were at one point blacklisted by the Lewandowski-managed Trump team, ran an excerpt that even linked to the publisher’s site.
In a sign of the misguidedness of the media’s approach to the book, The Washington Post raced to be the first to publish tidbits even while raising questions about its accuracy. Take its description of Lewandowski and Bossie’s allegation that The New York Times shared a bombshell story with the campaign before publication, a serious breach of journalistic ethics (emphasis mine):
In one of the most striking passages of the book, the co-authors describe a scene in which a New York Times reporter purportedly sent Manafort a “transcript” of a forthcoming story laying out allegations that Manafort had received a $12.7 million payment from a Ukrainian political party. The book says Bannon then read the first few paragraphs of the transcript. (A New York Times spokesman said in a statement Sunday that while its reporter sought comment from Manafort, no transcript was provided before publication, and that the timeline suggests that the Trump aides were reading an online version of the story.) The encounter occurred at Manafort’s apartment in Trump Tower, where, the co-authors write, an unnamed woman in a white muumuu “lounged” on the couch.
“Does Trump know about this?” Bannon asked, according to the book.
“What’s to know, it’s all lies,” Manafort replied.
The woman on the couch “imploringly” asked, “Paul?” Manafort responded, according to the book, “It was a long time ago. I had expenses.”
The authors write that “Bannon knew what he had in his hand. It was an explosive, page one story.”
One of the co-authors of the Times story in question, a 28-year veteran of the newspaper, also responded that Lewandowski and Bossie’s account was incorrect:
Those places that have shown even some minor journalistic elbow grease have seemingly dismantled Lewandowski and Bossie’s recollection on a broader level.
Take Chuck Todd’s interview with the pair on Sunday’s episode of Meet the Press. He opened the conversation by asking why their tell-all included just two mentions of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who last week pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its inquiry into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. “Did you scrub him out?” Todd asked. “How is it, if you’re writing about the campaign, that you didn’t have any Flynn anecdotes?”
The opener certainly caught Lewandowski and Bossie off guard, setting the tone for the rest of their appearance. Still, this kind of pushback raises a question that has divided journalists throughout Trump’s political career: Does pointing out the lie in some ways amplify it?
The deeper issue is that Lewandowski and Bossie’s words will be considered newsworthy by virtue of their former access to Trump. It’s the Game Change model of political journalism—scoopy and at times inane details attributed to anonymous aides—except those aides are now the ones cashing in. Those mining Let Trump Be Trump for anecdotes might inject a modicum of caution into their reports by clearly stating that Lewandowski in particular is a proven liar. Better yet, they may consider not giving the new tell-all any publicity at all.