New York Times media reporter Ben Smith devoted his Sunday column to Michael Wolff, who earned enough money to buy a second home on Long Island and "finally afford the lifestyle he had already been living" with his Trump White House tell-all Fire and Fury. Specifically, Smith ruminated on how Wolff gets the "monsters" he profiles to open up to him. Wolff's new book, Too Famous, includes profiles of Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Harvey Weinstein, former President Donald Trump, and Steve Bannon, among others.
Wolff, a "New York media scenester for decades," has "managed to stay at the top of his game because of his undying interest and expertise in a particular subject: big, bad men," Smith writes. "What Oprah Winfrey is to tearful celebrities and earnest royals, Mr. Wolff is to louche power players."
Smith started his column with a scoop from Wolff's book, that Bannon had worked with convicted pedophile and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein in 2019, soon before Epstein's arrest. Wolff described their taped encounters as media training for a 60 Minutes interview that would never happen; Bannon said he recorded 15 hours of interviews with Epstein for a previously unannounced documentary on Epstein's "perversions and depravity." Wolff said he worked off transcripts of what Epstein evidently believed to be practice interviews.
Bannon advised Epstein to look directly into the camera occasionally, not to share his racist theories on how Black people learn, and stick to his main message that he was not a pedophile, Wolff writes. He quotes Bannon's feedback to Epstein: "You're engaging, you're not threatening, you're natural, you're friendly, you don't look at all creepy, you're a sympathetic figure." Wolff won't say where he got the Epstein transcripts or other details of Epstein's last days.
Smith offers a few theories for Wolff's success with "bad men," including common enemies in the mainstream media and the promise of a sympathetic hearing. "And given that many of these figures must choose to tell their stories either to rule-abiding journalists, who often view them as monsters, or to sycophantic lightweights, you can see the appeal of going with someone who can relate to your struggles," he suggests.
Also, while most journalists are chasing down heroes, Wolff seeks insight on "understanding why our bad men do the things they do," Smith writes. "And monsters are fascinating." Read Smith's full column at The New York Times.