Midway through the excerpt of Michael Wolff’s new book which was published in New York magazine yesterday is a detailed recreation of a chat which took place on January 3, 2017 between two of the then-most powerful men in conservative media: Steve Bannon and the late Roger Ailes. The pair were part of what Wolff says was “a small dinner arranged by mutual friends in a Greenwich Village townhouse.”
It all sounds like a lovely party, and Wolff’s illustration of it was precise. An unshaven Bannon arrived three hours late wearing “his signature pairing of two shirts.” Ailes described John Bolton, former ambassador to the UN and then on the shortlist to be national security adviser, as a “strange little fucker.” Bannon alluded to Donald Trump’s incompetence, saying “he gets what he gets” about his place in history. And when asked for help reeling in his former boss, Rupert Murdoch, Ailes replied: “Trump would jump through hoops for Rupert. Like for Putin. Sucks up and shits down. I just worry about who’s jerking whose chain.”
It’s colorful dialogue penned by a writer known to gloss over similar details in his previous work. The Trump White House has portrayed such remarks as taken out of context, if not entirely fabricated, in its mind-boggling PR response to the book’s rollout over the past 24 hours. How should we, gentle and naive readers, know whom to believe?
Axios reported Thursday that Wolff had “dozens of hours” of tapes of his interviews with Bannon and other aides. I hope Wolff releases them. But what about that “small dinner arranged by mutual friends”? Here’s Axios (bullet points certainly not mine):
- How could Wolff possibly know for sure what Steve Bannon and the late Roger Ailes said at a private dinner?
- It turns out Wolff hosted the dinner for six at his Manhattan townhouse.
Hm. It is a peculiar detail to omit. It’s almost as if Wolff intended to convey to readers a masterful display of behind-the-curtain access journalism when in reality he was a part of a dinner party breaking bread, eating undercooked steaks, or doing whatever else it is that rich Manhattanites do.
But back to the guest list. Half of it is accounted for: Ailes, Bannon, and Wolff. Janice Min, at the time the top editor of The Hollywood Reporter, where Wolff writes occasional columns, added on Twitter Thursday afternoon that she was also one of the lucky few to get an invite:
Rubbing shoulders with two men who’ve worked to rupture American political media into its current multiverse hellscape does sound “astonishing.”
Who were the other flies on the wall who’ve yet to reveal themselves? Email me! Who would you have *wanted* to round out this special group? Let us know in the comments below.