Accuracy in Media


Author Michael Wolff has gotten broad mainstream media attention for his anti-Trump books, but in an interview published today with the New York Times, Wolff admits he views his job as a writer is to get the “truth as I see it,” and that his work doesn’t need to adhere to basic professional, fact-checking protocols. In his Times interview, Wolff says that his new anti-Trump book, “Siege,” is simply his “vision,” rather than an undeniable truth.

NYT: “As a journalist, is there a responsibility to seek out the subject’s side of the story? To gather as much information as you can?”

Wolff: “As a journalist — or as a writer — my obligation is to come as close to the truth as I possibly can. And that’s not as close to someone else’s truth, but the truth as I see it. Remember, it’s a difference between a book and something else — you don’t have to read my book, you don’t have to agree with my book. But at the end of the day, what you are going to know is that it is my book. It is my vision. It is my report on my experience. It’s not put together by a committee. What you do is a committee project at some point. What I do is not. And I’m not saying one is better than the other, they’re just different functions.

“Is ‘Siege’ a work of journalism? Of course.”

Wolff also admits in his Times interview that as an independent journalist he doesn’t have institutional pressure to vet and ensure accuracy of his reporting, but that doesn’t stop him from his opinion writing, even as Fox News and many other targets wholeheartedly deny Wolff’s wild assertions and claims.

NYT: “You also write that Fox News provided questions ahead of time for its interview with Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court nomination fight. Did you ask Fox for comment?

No, but, again — it’s a difference between an institutional reporter and a non-institutional reporter. I don’t have to ask the silly questions.

Are they silly if it’s a matter of fact in the book?

Yes, because can you imagine a circumstance under the sun in which Fox would come clean on that?

[Contacted on Wednesday, Fox News called Mr. Wolff’s claim “pure fiction.”]

But “Siege” went through a fact-checking period?

Of course.

And that did not include reaching out to —

I actually don’t believe, if you know the answer, it is necessary to go through the motions of getting an answer that you are absolutely certain of.

Just to be clear, by “answer,” you mean the response you would hear from the subject?

Yes.

I guess I’d press you again on fact-checking.

It’s a distinction between journalists who are institutionally wedded and those who are not. I’m not. You make those pro forma calls to protect yourself, to protect the institution. It’s what the institution demands. I’m talking about those calls where you absolutely know what the response is going to be. They put you in the position in which you’re potentially having to negotiate what you know. In some curious way, that’s what much journalism is about. It’s about a negotiated truth.

For someone else, a book writer, I don’t have to do that. When I know something is true, I don’t have to go back and establish some kind of middle ground with whoever I’m writing about, which will allow me at some point to go back to them.”




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