MSNBC: ‘Narrative’ of Unverified Trump-Trashing Book ‘Has Already Taken Hold’

At the top of her show on Thursday, MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell was giddy as she declared that Michael Wolff’s salacious and unverified tell-all book about the Trump administration must have the White House “completely rattled.” Even as she admitted that all the details may not be true: “It’s hard to know what is actually fact and what isn’t, a lot is in quotations.”

 

 

Correspondent Carol Lee went further, claiming that whether or not the book was factual didn’t really matter since it fit the liberal media “narrative” about Donald Trump’s presidency:

And look, you know, this is something where you’ve seen the White House really try to push back on certain elements of the book, but the problem that they’re facing is that broadly – and we should say NBC has not confirmed a number of the stories in this book – but broadly it fits with this narrative that we saw in the first year of the Trump administration, which was a lot of infighting and a lot of chaos and a lot of disorganization.

And even if you drill down on some of the things that are said about the President in terms of he’s distracted, he doesn’t like to be briefed at length, he gets bored in meetings with foreign leaders. You know, these are things that have been corroborated, ideas broadly, in other reports. So while the White House is really angry about this and really pushing back on certain pieces of it, their challenge is that they're fighting against a narrative that has already taken hold in terms of how the President has conducted his presidency in this first year.

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In an interview with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff minutes later, Mitchell once again confessed: “...we have to drill down with Michael Wolff in the coming days....When he put something in quotes, was he taping on his phone?...how many of these quotes are legitimate quotes? There’s some question about methodology here.”

Schiff quickly tried to vouch for the accuracy of the anti-Trump book: “I don’t know that we’ve seen [Steve] Bannon refute those quotes....He hasn’t said that anything that was attributed to him was not said by him, so presumably maybe there is a recording.” Mitchell agreed: “Good point.”

Touting the political hit job in yet another segment, Mitchell hailed Wolff’s account: “He portrays a toxic atmosphere of backstabbing family feuds, killer instincts of truly Shakespearean dimensions, if not reality TV.” Talking to Marc Lotter, former spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence, Mitchell pressed: “What about the depiction?....it talks about such a toxic atmosphere....And the White House staff just in complete disarray on issues of real substance.”

Lotter skeptically noted: “But one thing I think, you know, we do need to question some of this.” Mitchell acknowledged yet again: “And I should say, NBC News has not been able to confirm these stories, these quotations, these anecdotes.”

Lotter rightly pointed to Wolff’s questionable credibility:

And we’ve even seen in previous years, going back over a decade, the Columbia Journalism Review referred to some of the works of this author as being “twisted, disgusting, and pathetic.” There’s been a lot of controversy and a lot of – and that’s by the Columbia Journalism Review. So I do think we need to take this with a grain of salt. I’m sure there are juicy, tantalizing tidbits in there that everyone will digest. You know, whether this book – maybe it belongs more on the fiction section or in the tabloid section next to the National Enquirer, whether than it’s actual – you know, completely fact-based.

Even The Washington Post raised serious questions about whether readers should believe Wolff.  

During a panel discussion later in the show, Mitchell was forced to offer a disclaimer one more time: “...we can’t, you know, vouch for the content of the book...” Despite that, she still asked the Post’s Philip Rucker: “...but the fact is, does it ring true?...Does that ring true with your reporting?” As if something “ringing true” was close enough to actually being true.

Earlier Thursday morning, fellow MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle similarly attempted to blur the lines of honesty: “I’ve spoken to people inside the White House in the last 24 hours who have said, ‘Even if not all of it is true, the spirit of the book is and it’s troublesome.’”

For his part, Rucker observed: “Broadly speaking, a lot of the details in this book thematically are consistent with what we’ve been reporting over the last year about the chaos inside this White House and some of the simmering tensions and battles among the advisers.”

His Post colleague Anne Gearan chimed in: “I mean, the whole picture is one that is so profoundly unflattering that I think apart from the specifics that the White House is taking issue with, you know, they seem to be sort of gobsmacked by the portrait in total of how chaotic it is and the blame laid directly at the President’s feet for that chaos.”

Rucker concluded:

The bottom line, Andrea, is that we’re starting 2018 just as we left it in 2017. This is a really chaotic beginning for this administration. We’re now on the second day of dealing with this book and it’s probably gonna continue for some time. And it’s driven by the President’s anger in his response to this....and it’s really distracting the President from the business of the country.

It’s amazing how the media can stir up trouble by promoting unsubstantiated information and then blame the person being attacked for creating chaos.

Here are excerpts of the January 4 coverage:

12:05 PM ET

(...)

ANDREA MITCHELL: And Carol Lee, the White House has got to be completely rattled by this, all of these disclosures. It’s hard to know what is actually fact and what isn’t, a lot is in quotations. There’s going to be more to come from Michael Wolff as he explains the process that he used. But it’s clear that Bannon gave him access, as did the President. He did have at least one conversation that we know of, perhaps more, with the President himself, and that he was seen in the West Wing. He had a lot of access during the first 200 days.

CAROL LEE: Yeah, he certainly did. And look, you know, this is something where you’ve seen the White House really try to push back on certain elements of the book, but the problem that they’re facing is that broadly – and we should say NBC has not confirmed a number of the stories in this book – but broadly it fits with this narrative that we saw in the first year of the Trump administration, which was a lot of infighting and a lot of chaos and a lot of disorganization.

And even if you drill down on some of the things that are said about the President in terms of he’s distracted, he doesn’t like to be briefed at length, he gets bored in meetings with foreign leaders. You know, these are things that have been corroborated, ideas broadly, in other reports. So while the White House is really angry about this and really pushing back on certain pieces of it, their challenge is that they're fighting against a narrative that has already taken hold in terms of how the President has conducted his presidency in this first year.

(...)

12:10 PM ET

MITCHELL: One of the quotes from Bannon – and we have to drill down with Michael Wolff in the coming days, he’s going to be on the Today show tomorrow and on Meet the Press on Sunday. When he put something in quotes, was he taping on his phone? How did he know – you know, how many of these quotes are legitimate quotes? There’s some question about methodology here. So with that said –

REP. ADAM SCHIFF [D-CA]: I don’t know that we’ve seen Bannon refute those quotes.

MITCHELL: That’s correct.

SCHIFF: He has spoken about it. He hasn’t said that anything that was attributed to him was not said by him, so presumably maybe there is a recording.

MITCHELL: Good point.

(...)

12:19 PM ET

MITCHELL: Author Michael Wolff clearly had unprecedented access to the White House, with President Trump putting out the welcome mat, giving him at least one, if not more, interviews. He portrays a toxic atmosphere of backstabbing family feuds, killer instincts of truly Shakespearean dimensions, if not reality TV.
    
(...)

MITCHELL: What about the depiction? I mean, it was widely known that the President has a very short attention span, has particular tastes in terms of his food. He’s, you know, always worried about the safety. This has a little more detail about that, where he talks about, you know, being afraid of being poisoned, not wanting the White House staff to even touch his toothbrush, leaving his shirts on the floor, that kind of thing. But in addition to all those kinds of sort of juicy details, it talks about such a toxic atmosphere with Bannon just going after the President’s sons, his family, his daughter, certainly, and son-in-law. And the White House staff just in complete disarray on issues of real substance.

MARC LOTTER [FMR. SPOKESMAN FOR VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE]: Well, you had – you have – and obviously as this has come out in these initial excerpts, and I don’t know if they’re true or not, is this book does take some attacks against the President’s family, which is why I think you saw the President respond like he did yesterday.

But one thing I think, you know, we do need to question some of this. And I don’t know and I can’t tell you which we should and which we shouldn’t –

MITCHELL: And I should say, NBC News has not been able to confirm these stories...

LOTTER: Correct.

MITCHELL: ...these quotations, these anecdotes. We’ll obviously have an opportunity with an interview with the author.

LOTTER: And we’ve even seen in previous years, going back over a decade, the Columbia Journalism Review referred to some of the works of this author as being “twisted, disgusting, and pathetic.” There’s been a lot of controversy and a lot of – and that’s by the Columbia Journalism Review. So I do think we need to take this with a grain of salt. I’m sure there are juicy, tantalizing tidbits in there that everyone will digest. You know, whether this book – maybe it belongs more on the fiction section or in the tabloid section next to the National Enquirer, whether than it’s actual – you know, completely fact-based.

MITCHELL: Well, the President seemed to like some of the other stories that Michael Wolff has written, so he’s had certainly a good reputation with Donald Trump up until now. And with Steve Bannon and others.

(...)

12:40 PM ET

MITCHELL: The fact that he seems to have details – and we can’t, you know, vouch for the content of the book, and we'll be talking to him, he’ll be on the Today show tomorrow morning –  but the fact is, does it ring true? For instance, when he writes that the President is “semi-literate,” that “He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn't really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate.” Does that ring true with your reporting?

PHILIP RUCKER [THE WASHINGTON POST]: Well, I can tell you our reporting has been that the President prefers visual demonstrations. His briefers like to bring him graphics and pictures and videos and he processes information that way as opposed to sort of reading lengthy briefing books and long materials. That doesn’t mean he’s illiterate. Certainly he knows how to read. I mean his reaction to some of the stories that we run in the newspaper would suggest that he’s reading them. But broadly speaking, a lot of the details in this book thematically are consistent with what we’ve been reporting over the last year about the chaos inside this White House and some of the simmering tensions and battles among the advisers.

MITCHELL: And some of them are so extraordinary. Ann Gearen, let’s talk about the President’s supposed fear of being poisoned, that “He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s – nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely remade.” That obviously refers to before he was president. We don’t know that he’s hanging out at the McDonald’s. We actually had a president whom I covered who was hanging at McDonald’s, and that was Bill Clinton. But that’s another whole story.  

ANNE GEARAN [THE WASHINGTON POST]: One of the details in the book is that he still likes to eat cheeseburgers at night, so I guess we don’t really know where the cheeseburgers come from, but.  

MITCHELL: Cheeseburgers in bed, no less.

GEARAN: Yes. And while watching TV and talking on the phone. I mean, who doesn’t, really? I mean, the whole picture is one that is so profoundly unflattering that I think apart from the specifics that the White House is taking issue with, you know, they seem to be sort of gobsmacked by the portrait in total of how chaotic it is and the blame laid directly at the President’s feet for that chaos.

(...)

12:44 PM

MITCHELL: Phil, what is the bottom line for you?

RUCKER: The bottom line, Andrea, is that we’re starting 2018 just as we left it in 2017. This is a really chaotic beginning for this administration. We’re now on the second day of dealing with this book and it’s probably gonna continue for some time. And it’s driven by the President’s anger in his response to this. And you know, our sources were telling us he was spending hours yesterday trying to deal with how to respond to Bannon, fuming about the book with his closest advisers, and it’s really distracting the President from the business of the country.

(...)


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