Bloomberg has revealed the magic words that got author Michael Wolff a front row seat to the Donald Trump White House. Abracadabra? Shazam? Open Sesame? Not quite …
Author Michael Wolff’s pitch to the White House to win cooperation for his book included a working title that signaled a sympathetic view, a counter-narrative to a slew of negative news stories early in Donald Trump’s presidency.
He called it “The Great Transition: The First 100 Days of the Trump Administration.” And in part due to that title, Wolff was able to exploit an inexperienced White House staff who mistakenly believed they could shape the book to the president’s liking.
Flattery really will get you anywhere—including inside the Oval Office—so long as that flattery is directed at Donald Trump.
But that was really the second act. Donald Trump and Michael Wolff had already bonded over something near to Trump’s heart, and Wolff didn’t even have to initiate the connection.
Wolff’s entree began with Trump himself, who phoned the author in early February to compliment him on a CNN appearance in which Wolff criticized media coverage of the new president.
Wolff didn’t call Trump. Trump called him and the pair harmonized in whining about CNN’s treatment of Trump. Wolff, recognizing an opportunity, immediately made his pitch to do an inside the Trump White House book and … from there no one seemed to notice that they had invited in a guy who was famous for writing books that savaged their main subjects.
It appears that not a single person in a position of authority to halt cooperation with the book — including Trump himself — raised any red flags, despite Wolff’s well documented history. His previous work included a critical book on Trump confidant Rupert Murdoch, the Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. co-chairman.
It took until mid-August for the members of the Trump team to notice that Wolff had been encouraging them to tell their best “why everyone here is a idiot” anecdotes and scribbling furiously. In particular, Hope Hicks and Jared Kushner thought that Wolff was spending just a little too much time listening to Steve Bannon reel off burns on the rest of the team.
But that was late in the game. Not only did Hicks approve the idea of bringing Wolff into the fold, she took him around the White House to meet other staffers and encouraged people to have talks with the author.
At this point Michael Wolff had already written a book about Silicon Valley in which he attacked everyone in the book. And he had written a book about Rupert Murdoch, in which he painted Murdoch as a not just a self-serving megalomaniac, but a dinosaur completely unable to comprehend how the Internet was tearing up his paper-based empire.
Only … no one in the Trump White House apparently went so far as to read anything Wolff had written. He had given an interview in which he complained that Trump wasn’t getting fair treatment from the media, and that was all it took for Trump—and everyone else—to lower all guards and open up the floodgates.
In fact, for the first six months of Trump’s presidency no one in his White House — including then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer — stopped Wolff from repeatedly scheduling appointments in the West Wing. He visited about 17 times, according to a person familiar with the matter. Nor did they monitor what Trump’s aides were telling the controversial author.
Donald Trump called Wolff up. Hope Hicks showed him around. And everyone was ready to spill. All Wolff had to do was listen.
Not only is this the most lucrative book Wolff has written, it seems to have been by far the easiest.