The recent tsunami of attention devoted to author Michael Wolff’s exposé “Fire and Fury” has sparked a debate on the “truthiness” of his journalism.
However, the book was never intended to be a factual news report; Wolff clarifies in his opening that the novel is his perception and synthesis of the interviews and events that took place during his “blue badge” days at the White House. Therefore, readers should be expecting something closer to a lengthy editorial essay, a style of journalism that permits writers to communicate the truth as they interpret it.
In journalism, there is a great deal of difference between a news report (inform) and an editorial (inform and persuade) and a political satire essay (inform, persuade, and entertain). Editorials are essentially short essays meant to influence public opinion, promote critical thinking, and sometimes cause people to take action on an issue. In essence, an editorial is an opinionated news story.
Fire and Fury, is simply a novel-length essay written from Wolff’s personal point of view. It contains learned arguments, observations of daily life in the White House, recollections of events and interviews, and reflections of the author. Some may argue that it is a political manifesto largely spewed from the mouth of a now apologetic Steve Bannon. However, It is not, nor has it ever claimed to be, a factual news report.
Let us create a hypothetical scenario to make these differences in journalism easier to understand. A journalist covering the political beat overhears a controversial political leader accept a family vacation offer to the private island of a wealthy junk food magnate. The wordsmith in question is aware that approval for a natural sugar substitute to replace the artificial one currently causing explosive runs in their sugar-free Gummi Beavers is up for review by the Ministry of Bowel Safety (the Ministry of BS). The writer is faced with a dilemma. Besides having to decide if she is going to write a news report or an editorial on this scoop, she is also the only outside witness to this apparent lobbying. Should this be reported to the Ethics Commissioner for investigation?
The answer to that question is an immediate “YES.” As a citizen you are never off duty; as a writer, you can check your pen at the door. That decided, she writes two versions of her story.
First, the News Report: “On December 21, 2017, the Premier of Duffedon took advantage of the government’s winter break, and accepted a vacation invitation from candy magnate Lycasin Maltitol. The Premier and his family will be staying as guests at Mr. Maltitol’s Candyleaf Plantation on the island of Haribo off the coast of Brazil. When asked about the choice of vacation destination, the Premier noted that he and Mr. Maltitol had been friends for years.”
That’s it. When? 2012/12/21. Who? The Duffedon Premier, his family, and Mr. Maltitol; What? A family vacation. Where? Mr. Maltitol’s Candyleaf Plantation on the island of Haribo. Why? Opportunity to viisit with a family friend.
Now, the Editorial (with just a touch of political satire): “While most of us were shoveling snow and recovering from frostbite, our embattled Premier escaped to the sunny Island of Haribo off the coast of Brazil. Our editorial staff find this difficult to accept. Is it fair that some entitled Duffedonians get an invite to the tropics from rich corporate friends while the 99% are shivering in the cold dark days of December coping with high electricity prices? Yes, on December 21, fittingly the shortest day and longest, darkest night of the year, the Premier and his family jetted off to Candyleaf, Mr. Maltitol’s Stevia rebaudiana plantation.
It should be noted that stevia, a sugar substitute, is the replacement recommended by the Ministry of Bowel Safety. The health catastrophe caused by the artificial “sour gas” sweetener in our famous Duffedonian sugar free Gummi Beavers had caused a collapse in the global market, a market second only to our manure exports. The government and particularly the Ministry of BS is under a great deal of pressure to reverse this economic Armageddon. Whoever gets the sweetener contract stands to make millions of our devalued dollars.
The government claims that it has been open and fair in accepting all bids on the sweetener replacement contract. However, Opposition parties are calling foul, claiming that the trip is directly connected to the upcoming bill in the House recommending stevia as the replacement sugar substitute in Gummi Beavers. The Ministry of BS claims that stevia was simply the healthiest choice for Duffedonian bowels. The Ethics Commissioner, alerted by our timely news reporting, has promised to look into this matter.
Is it not time that Duffedonian’s deserve honesty and transparency and clarity in our governance? Is it too much for hard working, tax-paying, Gummi Beaver consuming Duffedonians to expect a straight answer to a simple question? We think not! We call for the Minister of BS to resign and keep the government out of our junk food choices! The Editor
There you have it – an editorial can rant and rave a little as long as it doesn’t cross the libel line. It can appear to be intelligent, but has to be careful of falling prey to the two parts of the Rex Murphy Syndrome. Part One is using so many big words that your audience is bedazzled by your eloquence but really has no idea what you are saying. Part Two is being caught getting paid on the side by individuals and groups seeking to influence the tone of the news.
What if we discovered that our hypothetical Editor works for a publishing group linked to influential corporations, linked to influential fundraisers, linked to whatever political party is in office. As CBC noted, “When journalists get paid to speak to or on behalf of powerful advocacy groups, it is hard to argue that this does not lead to a perception of conflict of interest.”
Fire and Fury in journalism, the way I see it.
Skid Crease, Caledon