NYT Critic: Trump Likes to ‘Smell His Own Sulfur,’ Cites Conspiracy Theory on John Kerry’s Loss

September 6th, 2018 7:18 PM

New York Times book critic Dwight Garner had some modest praise for Fear, Watergate journalist Bob Woodward’s new peek at Donald Trump’s White House, but the main thrust of his review on the front of Thursday’s Arts page was Trump-bashing.

The headline captured the book’s tone (“A Road Map of ‘Crazytown -- In Bob Woodward’s look at the Trump White House, the chaos is hardly surprising.”) while the text box summed up Garner’s contemptuous take on Trump as a leader and human: “‘Fear’ portrays Donald J. Trump as a president displaying little knowledge and an utter lack of interest in learning anything at all”:

Nothing in Bob Woodward’s sober and grainy new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” is especially surprising. This is a White House that has leaked from Day 1. We knew things were bad. Woodward is here, like a state trooper knocking on the door at 3 a.m., to update the sorry details.


It is stranger still to learn that Trump orders his most popular tweets printed out, so that he can study them. What lesson has he learned? That his most effective tweets are often the most unhinged. He’s a focus group of one, thriving on the smell of his own sulfur....

Garner didn’t mention Woodward’s reporting coming under fire amid accusations of made-up quotes. In fact, Garner gave Woodward backhanded praise for his fact-checking (balancing out his wooden prose):

The critic Clive James once complained that Woodward “checks his facts until they weep with boredom.” Well, fact-checking and boredom seem sexy again. Even weeping is making a comeback.

After suggesting Vice President Mike Pence “comes off as a glorified golf caddy,” Garner summed up: “If this book has a single point to drive home, it is that the president of the United States is a congenital liar.”

The front of Tuesday Arts page featured a far kinder look from Garner at a Democratic politician -- his review of the biography by former senator and failed presidential candidate John Kerry, Every Day Is Extra: “John Kerry, A Life in Full, With Regrets And Idealism -- The former secretary of state and senator reflects on war, politics and diplomacy”:

Garner considered Kerry, who tried to exploit his service in Vietnam during the 2004 campaign (despite having smeared his fellow soldiers upon returning home), a slightly dull but worthy statesman:

Remember boredom, sweet boredom? John Kerry’s new memoir, like its author, is reserved and idealistic and reassuringly dull, for long stretches, in its statesmanlike carriage.

Garner floated a liberal conspiracy theory about the Ohio vote in 2004 (he lost the state) that not even the Democratic Party signed on to:

His 2004 loss to George W. Bush still rankles, this book makes plain. It was a race he should have won. Kerry was undone by many things, not least of all smears about his Vietnam War record and apparent voting irregularities in Ohio.


He retains a close-to-incendiary bitterness over of the attempts to muddy his war record, led by partisans without direct knowledge of his actions. He regrets not stopping his 2004 presidential campaign cold to address them.

The contrast in takes is not surprising, given that Garner in 2011 ridiculously claimed that left-wing mockumentarian Michael Moore’s biography “persuades you to take Mr. Moore seriously, and it belongs on a shelf with memoirs by, and books about, nonconformists like Mother Jones, Abbie Hoffman, Phil Ochs, Rachel Carson, Harvey Pekar and even Thomas Paine.”