Each week, USA TODAY's OnPolitics blog takes a look at how media from the left and the right reacted to a political news story, giving liberals and conservatives a peek into the other's media bubble.
This week, political commentators from the right and the left were abuzz with reportedly behind-the-scenes revelations from a new Michael Wolff book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Several juicy details emerged from excerpts Wednesday, but it was former White House adviser Steve Bannon's purported criticisms of President Trump's family that got the most attention.
According to Wolff, Bannon called Donald Trump's Jr.'s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton "treasonous," "unpatriotic" and "bad s--t." He also called Ivanka Trump as "dumb as a brick," according to Wolff.
Some folks on the left took Bannon's comments and other unflattering excerpts from the book as proof of their own fears and assumptions about the administration, although many were skeptical because of Wolff's track record on accuracy. Conservatives tended to discredit Bannon and to dismiss Wolff's book as another attempt by the news media to slander the president.
From the left: Wolff's book is 'a gift to Donald Trump'
The New Republic's Alex Shephard said Wolff's work has always had a loose connection with the truth and that he has already "has been caught making very suspicious claims" in Fire and Fury.
Wolff's work relies on gossip to tell us what we already know about the administration and in the process Wolff's apparent willingness to "say anything, whether or not it’s strictly true ... only bolsters the Trump administration’s case that the fake news media is out to get him," Shephard said.
Wolff’s recklessness fuels the Trump administration’s critique of journalists and the media. It suggests that journalists really are out to get the president — after all, in Fire and Fury, Wolff suggests that journalists will print anything, so long as it casts Trump in a bad light. The rewards are clear: His cavalier reporting has led to TV bookings, a #1 Amazon bestseller, and insane traffic for any of the outlets that agreed to publish his work.
From the right: Wolff stories too good for media to disprove
The news media know about Wolff's problem with facts, but "his quotes and stories reinforce the contempt they have for Mr. Trump so the tales are too good to ignore or try to disprove," said The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.
The paper's editorial board also took issue with reporters suddenly giving credence to Bannon's take on events, such as the "treasonous" nature of Trump Jr.'s meeting. "So the same reporters who think Mr. Bannon is a xenophobe and bigot now view him as a legal authority," the board said.
"He and the press corps have a relationship of mutual loathing but co-dependency," the editorial said. "They use each other, and the media love to promote Mr. Bannon because he is a talkative source and a destructive political force inside the Republican Party."
From the left: Book proves everyone knows Trump is 'an idiot'
Wolff's book is full of "alarming anecdotes" and "arresting details," wrote Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times, but "most of all, the book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it."
Trump, Wolff’s reporting shows, has no executive function, no ability to process information or weigh consequences. Expecting him to act in the country’s interest is like demanding that your cat do the dishes. His enablers have no such excuse.
From the right: Split with Bannon is good for Trump
Wolff's book had one important impact: getting Trump to finally distance himself from Bannon, said Ed Rogers in The Washington Post.
Rogers called Bannon a "fraud," a "cook" and a "crank," and said the "media has propped Bannon up, making his influence appear larger than it truly is." On top of echoing Trump's line that Bannon's importance was exaggerated, Rogers also wrote that Bannon "made everything inside Trump World worse."
So, does Wolff’s book change anything? A real and permanent split between Bannon and Trump is a good thing for the Republican Party and for the president. Having Bannon offer himself as an agent of Trump’s and as someone who could claim to be able to mobilize the president’s forces would have been nothing but poison during the 2018 midterms.
From the left: Trump is lying about Bannon
"For the better part of three years, Steve Bannon has framed Donald Trump’s politics, prodding the political newcomer to embrace the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim stances of Breitbart’s alt-right community, serving as a very hands-on leader of the Republican nominee’s fall campaign, and then grabbing a place at the center of the new administration," Nichols said.
Bannon had everything to do with Trump’s election, the transition that followed, and the critical first months of Trump’s presidency. These two profoundly flawed men have finally fallen out with one another. But that does not change the fact Trump has for a very long time channeled Steve Bannon.
From the right: Trump's attack on Bannon could cost him
Bannon is "pissed," Keith Koffler said in an article for Politico Magazine.
The Breitbart chairman "was deeply proud of his role as chief executive of Trump’s general election campaign and of his work at the White House," wrote Koffler, the author of Bannon: Always the Rebel. And in responding to Bannon's alleged remarks, Trump dismissed and diminished that work.
Though Bannon is currently taking the high road, calling Trump a "great man," he is "watching Trump’s allegiance to populism closely." Even after Trump's attack and a disavowal from his Breitbart backer Rebekah Mercer, Bannon is far from finished, Koffler said.
In fact, by responding to Bannon with such ferocity, Trump has helped resurrect Bannon’s prospects. Fleas are swatted away, not nuked with presidential statements. Bannon is a big personality, a big player, and Trump is mistaken if he thinks he is going to crush him or even wound him without consequence.